By Lindsay Czechowski
The memoir The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston is a collection of stories about the author’s life growing up. The important things in her life were the “talk stories” her mother, Brave Orchid, told her growing up to “warn us[her] about life” (Kingston, 5). Progressing through the book Kingston begins to write more and more about these ghosts that constantly haunt her and her family. Ghosts typically represent people of the past that have died. In ancient China “ghosts were taken very seriously”because they were seen as beings that did harm to the living (Mark). Brave Orchid’s life was surrounded by ghosts. Kingston recognizes her not as “crazy” but as a “capable exorcist” because she was strong enough to fight off the ghosts (Kingston, 92). Because of Kingston’s mother, ghosts are a large part of Kingston’s girlhood even in America.
In the chapter Shaman, Kingston switches point of views between herself and her mother. Brave Orchid grew up in China and is the reason for Kingston’s thoughts and stories in this book. In the perspective of herself, Kingston refers to regular people as ghosts. This is interesting because the “talk stories” from Brave Orchid contained harmful ghosts that haunted her throughout life in China. Those stories differ from the thoughts Kingston creates about ghosts in her life. She replaces people with ghosts. She writes about being “regularly visited by the Mail Ghost, Meter Reader Ghost, Garbage Ghost,” all people in normal everyday life (Kingston, 98). These ghosts are not harmful to anyone yet Kingston continues to write about them as if they are, in turn copying her mother’s stories. It is said that ” in ancient China, they were reality whether one believed in them or laughed them off”(Mark). These stories are very real to the Chinese. Tales of certain deaths such as “the drowned one,” or Kingston’s aunt that killed herself and her baby, can haunt and “waits silently by the water to pull down a substitute” (Kingston, 16). The contrast between this mother and daughter duo is the severity of these ghosts within their culture. Kingston lives as a Chinese American not surrounded by the ancient Chinese beliefs causes her to make up stories like her mother’s. This behavior attributes to why the reading is confusing to the reader. Kingston writes about what she remembers from her childhood trying to explain these happenings as if she knows everything about them, however in reality she knows very little. This leaves the reader with little knowledge of what her stories’ purposes were.
These stories emphasize hidden thoughts of Brave Orchid. For example, while explaining a story about the garbage man that Kingston refers to as “Garbage Ghosts,” Brave Orchid refers to him as “the White Ghost” (Kingston, 98). Brave Orchid says, ” Now we know”and continues,” the White Ghosts can hear Chinese” (Kingston, 98). Why does she include that in the story? Does Brave Orchid have something against Americans? This contributes to why Kingston never feels like enough. In the chapter White Tigers Kingston says,”My American life has been such a disappointment” (Kingston, 45). Why did Kingston refer to her life as her “American life”? America was not what Brave Orchid was used to nor did she have her family there with her. Chinese traditions are up to her to continue on to Kingston. However, these stories make Kingston seem less than acceptable to Brave Orchid only because she is not fully Chinese. Although she married an American man she has unhappy feelings on white Americans, specifically, even compared to black Americans.
The ghosts are significant in Chinese culture and to Brave Orchid. These “talk stories” reveal a side to Brave Orchid and her actions towards Kingston. These are important to recognize because these stories about ghosts slowly begin to unravel the truth about Kingston’s life and stories as a female, Chinese American.
- What was the purpose of including “White” and “Black Ghosts”?
- Why does Kingston call machines and people “ghosts” growing up in her stories?
Kingston, Maxine H. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Childhood among Ghosts. Vintage, 1989.
Mark, Emily. “Ghosts in Ancient China.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 29 Sept. 2019, www.ancient.eu/article/892/ghosts-in-ancient-china/.