Birds are important symbols in "White Tigers" and "Shaman." In "White Tigers," a bird guides Kingston, as seven-year-old Fa Mu Lan, up the mountain to meet her mentors. The bird represents the bravery of a child who would be willing to climb a mountain in pursuit, and also represents the fantastical possibility of a girl literally rising above her station in life and growing to become a great leader. The bird is such an auspicious symbol in the legend of Fa Mu Lan, in fact, that Maxine is especially disturbed that a bird represents death in another story, that of her Fourth Uncle's death—he is killed by Communists while he is trying to capture birds as food for his family. To Maxine, it is almost as if the talk-stories are contradicting themselves.

Birds are an auspicious symbol in the talk-stories of "Shaman." A sea bird is painted on the side of Brave Orchid's boat to Canton. To Maxine, the bird represents luck because the very next ship is boarded by pirates. It might also be said to represent fortune in the literal sense; when Brave Orchid goes to the market to shop, her wallet unfolds "like wings."


Mountains represent isolation, safety, fortune and possibility in The Woman Warrior. The mountain in "White Tigers" is a magical place where Fa Mu Lan learns wisdom and martial arts. In "Shaman," the mountain near Brave Orchid's village is a place of refuge during the Japanese bombing of China. Throughout the memoir, the "Gold Mountain" is a powerful symbol of the fortune and promise of America.

The mountain is also, however, an illusory symbol. It hardly proves a refuge from the horrors of war in "Shaman," as the villagers stone to death a crazy woman whom they believe a spy. Moreover, the "Gold Mountain" does not turn out to be such a blessing for Kingston's parents, who must toil in laundries and tomato fields to earn a living. Like the bird, the mountain is a symbol that Kingston finds alternately promising and disturbing throughout her memoir.

Bound Feet

Bound feet are the most literal symbol in the memoir, representing the restrictions placed upon women in traditional Chinese society. Bound feet make only brief appearances in the text, most likely because the practice had died out before most of the women in Kingston's family lived (there is a brief mention of her grandmother's having bound feet at the end of "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe"). There is an important section of "White Tigers" where Kingston writes about China wrapping metaphorical "double binds" around her feet. Just as the binding of feet represents both restriction and—in the most one-sided of ways—love and support, so is Kingston both frustrated by Chinese customs envious of women "loved enough to be supported."


The circle appears in "No-Name Woman" as a literal symbol, or "talisman," to represent the Chinese belief in community, family kinship, and law. The Chinese family—that is, the community of kin—is like a circle: people have children to look after them when they get old, and then the dead continue to look after the family. It is also a closed circle—shut off to everyone outside the community, like Americans—and any interruption in the circle has profound effects. Thus, even a private action, such as No-Name Woman's transgression, affects the rest of the village, and must have be punished with dire consequences.