Feminist Criticism in The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

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Author and Era:

The social and historical context, along with Kingston‘s childhood life and philosophies greatly influenced The Woman Warrior. As it is a memoir and is non-fiction, theses elements greatly influenced Kingston‘s childhood along with her parent‘s lives, the subject of her memoir. Kingston’s mother and father came to America when the Chinese Exclusion Act was still in effect, preventing both from becoming citizens. During this time, Americans tended to be weary of foreigners and foreigners, especially Chinese tended to be discriminated. Along with cultural and language barriers, it prevented Kingston’s parents from many opportunities that would have allowed them to be more successful. Historically in China, Mao Zedong had started pushing for Communism in China and soon after new regimes were implemented. This ultimately influenced her parents to come to America and helps to influence the lives of her other family members who were still stuck in China. Her mother’s life especially is brought up in the memoir and her mother greatly helps to define her identity as a Chinese— American woman, In addition, both American and traditional Chinese culture greatly influenced Kingston as a child. These two cultures ultimately formed her identity as she grew up and the memoir describes the clash of the two cultures. Chinese culture by itself, such as traditional women role and Confucianism, also helps to shape Kingston as a child and greatly influences her. (EBSCO Literary Reference Center— Alyssa Colton) Style: The memoir for the most part would be classified as realism.

It had an ordinary and realistic setting and story. Kingston did not try to over analyze her childhood and wrote a relatively simple story of her life for most of the memoir. Her characters were a combination of both positive and negative traits and they were often in conflict, She also used diction that was full of accents and realistic language. However, other parts of her memoir were of a fantasy or romantic. For example, some parts of her work used very ornate diction. The characters gave relatively long speeches that were very dramatic and exaggerated. The setting was not realistic and was imaginary. Some parts of the work contained magical stuff and illogical things. Based off philosophical assumptions, The Woman Warrior can be categorized as both Romantic, It is Romantic that Kingston assumes that humans have free will and can affect their own outcomes in life, She also seems to assume that each person is important and is a unique individual. For example, Kingston shows how characters such as her mother and herself and have completely different personalities and they play an important role in life. She also depicts how the characters work to shape their life and outcomes. Response to Criticism: Kennedy, Colleen, and Deborah Morse, “A Dialogue With(in) Tradition: Two Perspectives on The Woman Warrior.” Approaches to Teaching Kingston’s The Woman Warrior. Ed. Shirley Lim. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1991. 121430. Print.

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The main idea of this critical source is to present two different perspectives regarding how Kingston and her mother in the memoir develops as a woman and if she was suppressed by society. One author (Morse) argues that Kingston and her mother makes it through obstacles for women and is able to find her true position in society. The other author (Kennedy), however, does not believe that Kingston and her mother were able to get through those obstacles. This source presents a sociological criticism and more specifically a feminist criticism of The Woman Warrior, Morse uses the example of when Kingston wrote about her life as Fa Mu Lan. It showed how Kingston was able to rise above her position in society as a woman and even gained status higher than that of a man. She also shows how Kingston did not strictly follow Chinese or American traditional women roles and would at times go against.

She also uses the example of how Kingston’s mother studied really hard to become a doctor, triumphing over tradition Chinese values regarding women. On the other hand, Kennedy, analyzed the tone Kingston’s narration of the memoir, and believed that her tone showed hints of her oppression by a male dominated society. She also used the example of how Kingston at times would try to fit in as an American, showing her acceptance of traditional American women roles. After reading both perspectives regarding feminist criticism, 1 found Morse‘s criticism to be more convincing than that of Kennedy’s. I found Morse‘s criticism to be convincing because she was to successfully demonstrate how Kingston was not oppressed by a male-dominated culture (both American and Chinese).

Her argument regarding how Kingston was able to go against traditional roles for women was made sense to me, On the other hand, I did not find Kennedy’s criticism to be as convincing because her arguments only focused on a very minor part of the memoir and did not look at the memoir as a whole. Her logic at times was not very coherent or very convincing. From Morse‘s criticism, it helped to me understand how Kingston was able to overcome societal limits that were placed on women and how she successfully broke them. It brought my attention more to the feminist perspective evident in the memoir after paying most attention to the cultttral perspective in the memoir, Journal Response #3: “‘You get reparation candy,’ she said. ‘You say, ‘You have tainted my house with sick medicine and must remove the curse with sweetness’ He’ll understand.‘ ‘He didn’t do it on purpose. And no he won’t, Mother, They don’t understand stuff like that. I won‘t be able to say it right. He‘ll call us beggars. .,’Mymotherhseztagimmesomecandy,’ I said to the druggist, Be cute and small, No one hurts the cute and smalltn ‘We don’t give sample candy, young lady,” he said, ‘My mother said you have to give us candyt She said that is the way Chinese do itt‘ ‘What?’

That is the way the Chinese do it’… ‘Can i give you some money?‘ he asked. ‘No we want candy.’ He reached into a jar and gave me a handful of lollipops. He gave us candy all year round…” (Kingston 170-171), Initially when I read this part of the book, I was quite confttsed as to why Kingston decided to throw it in It was brought up at a really unusual place and I did not think that it exactly belonged there when I first looked at. I wondered why Kingston chose to even write about this particular episodet Now I believe that l-Iong is using this part to show a clash between traditional Chinese culture and American culture. I think that she is trying to show how as a child, she was always conflicted as to whether she should follow Chinese values or American values. From this part, it is quite to clear me that she seemed to struggle if she wanted to listen to her mother and follow Chinese values.

When she did follow Chinese values, it only confused the American druggist. I believe Kingston also used this part to show how Chinese-Americans struggle between two different cultures, They try to respect both and I think that Kingston wants to show how difficult it is to honor both without it becoming a disaster.

Works Cited

  1. Colton, Alyssa, “Literary Contexts ln Essays And Memoirs: Maxine Hong Kingston’s “The Woman Warrior: Memoirs OfA Girlhood Among Ghosts.” Literary Contexts In Memoirs: Maxine Hong Kingston’s ‘The Woman Warrior – Memoirs OfA Girlhood Among Ghosts’ (2006): 1. Literary Reference Center. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.
  2. Kennedy, Colleen, and Deborah Morse, “A Dialogue With(in) Tradition: Two Perspectives on The Woman Warrior.” Approaches to Teaching Kingston’s The Woman Warrior. Ed. Shirley Lim, New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1991. 121-130, Print.
  3. Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts. New York: Knopf, 1976. Print.

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