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The Woman Warrior

Maxine Hong Kingston

Chapter Four: At the Western Palace

Chapter Three: Shaman

Chapter Four: At the Western Palace, page 2

page 1 of 2

Brave Orchid's sister, Moon Orchid, is moving to America from Hong Kong. Brave Orchid has not seen her sister for thirty years, but has now finally raised enough money to afford to pay for her plane fare. Brave Orchid, her children, and Moon Orchid's adult daughter await her arrival at the airport. When they finally meet again, each is amazed at how old the other looks.

Moon Orchid, who has never been to America—"the Gold Mountain"—before, is thrilled by everything around her. She follows her nieces and nephews around the house in Stockton, commenting on their intelligence and abilities, much to the children's annoyance. Indeed, she is soon little more than an annoyance to the entire household. Her inability to perform even the easiest tasks, such as washing dishes or mending clothes, renders her useless in Brave Orchid's mind. Brave Orchid can barely even employ her sister to fold towels in the family laundry.

Brave Orchid has brought her sister to America for a reason, however: to help Moon Orchid reclaim her status, after thirty years of marriage, as the wife of a successful doctor in Los Angeles. Moon Orchid, like her sister and so many other Chinese women, married in China just before her husband left for the Gold Mountain, and received a generous allowance from him while she was still living in China. It had become clear in the many years since he left, however, that her husband had no plans for bringing Moon Orchid over to America, and had in fact married again and started a family. Though Moon Orchid is too timid and embarrassed to confront her husband, Brave Orchid wants her to march straight into his house and treat his new wife like a servant, to reclaim his new children as her own. She tells a talk-story about one of their brothers, who took a new wife in Singapore and then had to build a second house for her and their children when his first wife returned and confronted him.

Moon Orchid's opportunity to see her plans through arises when her daughter must return home to Los Angeles. The daughter had once tried to contact her father, Moon Orchid's husband, but had been rebuffed. Moon Orchid reluctantly agrees to make the trip to Los Angeles, so they pile into a car with one of Brave Orchid's sons. On the drive down, Brave Orchid tells talk-stories about a Chinese myth of an Emperor with four wives. The Empress of the West had imprisoned the Emperor in the Western Palace, and it was up to the Empress of the East to rescue her husband.

When they finally arrive at her husband's office building, Moon Orchid is too scared to enter, so Brave Orchid goes to the man's office instead. Brave Orchid sees her brother-in-law's new wife, a pretty nurse, and decides to have her son trick the doctor in to coming down to the car. Brave Orchid's plan fails miserably. The doctor, younger than both of the two women, addresses them as "Grandmothers." When Brave Orchid tells him the truth, he coldly tells Moon Orchid that he wants nothing to do with her, and that he could get in trouble if anyone ever found out about their marriage. They never see each other again.

Moon Orchid moves to Los Angeles to be with near her daughter, but begins to have delusions about Mexican "ghosts" plotting to kill her. Brave Orchid brings her sister back to Stockton, but her delusions only become worse. She walks around the house turning off lights and locking doors, believing someone is going to come and take all of them away. At the end of the chapter, Brave Orchid takes her sister to a mental asylum, where she eventually dies.

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