A Figment of the Imagination

“The Woman Warrior” is an autobiography written by Maxine Hong Kingston. This novel explores the depths of the imagination through storytelling and the creation of new stories. Kingston attempts to make sense of the stories that her mother tells her, the first of which being that she has a deceased aunt that she never knew. This news would naturally be a shock to anyone, and Kingston’s way of dealing with this confusion is to use her imagination to create a story about what she thinks her aunt’s life may have been like. Due to the fact that her aunt became pregnant by a man that wasn’t her husband, she became dead to the family. Kingston never meeting her aunt greatly impacts the validity of the story, and we wonder who is in her life when she recounts the story. This caused Kingston to come to her own conclusions about her aunt since she couldn’t talk to anyone else about her. Kingston creates the story and image in her mind that her aunt gave birth in a pigsty. The validity of this story is highly in question and could have easily been made up, however it is up to the reader to decide how much he/she believes is a figment of her imagination and how much is real, if any. 

Kingston’s mother opening up the story with “You must not tell anyone…” (1) is a very dramatic opening and makes for a mysterious and ominous beginning. Since Kingston has to keep what her mother reveals to her about her aunt bottled up, she becomes very curious. She imagines her aunt’s ghost walking around. This leads back to the cover of the novel, stating that the story is “memoirs of a girlhood among ghosts”. This evokes a sense of a presence/presences looming, as if Kingston feels as though she has been surrounded by ghosts her whole life. Maybe her mother revealing to her that she had an aunt that she was never aware of is freeing to her and her way of being curious is to use her imagination. This creates a focus on the imagination and that we can shape a story into whatever we want it to be. 

Kingston’s imagination tends to run on the wild side. She presents us with dark images and forces us to think about many upsetting topics. This makes the reader wonder how the obstacles that she has had to face in her life being Chinese-American has impacted her mental state. She may assume that her aunt’s life was miserable due to what her mother told her, however, a child tends to make light of a dark situation, and Kingston does not do so.

An interesting literary device that presents itself in “The Woman Warrior” is irony. The irony that can be noted in this story is that although the first words that Kingston’s mother says are “You must not tell anyone…” (1), Kingston continues to recount the events of what she believes her aunt went through. Kingston speculates and makes up stories about her aunt and imagines what her life would have been like. This is an interesting aspect of the story and allows us to wonder what made Kingston so curious. We can also notice 

Kingston wondering whether she is creating these stories to honor her aunts memory or to fulfill her own needs. Since we receive no background about Kingston, it is hard to make a conclusion about why she is so speculative throughout the story.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What makes Kingston so inquisitive about her families’ past?
  2. What does the cover “memoirs of a girlhood among ghosts” reveal about Kingston?

Sara Weber

12 Replies to “A Figment of the Imagination”

  1. Hey Sara! I really enjoyed your post and I loved your title! You pulled out some very interesting points about Kingston and her point of view on these stories. To answer your question, I think Kingston is so curious about her family’s past because their past is so hazy. I say this because these stories Kingston’s mother tells her is because,”Whenever she had to warn us about life, my mother told stories that ran like this one, a story to grow up on,” (Kingston, 5). At this point the audience wonders how much of these stories are true. Also I have to think, what is happening in Kingston’s life for her mother to give her this story to warn her about life?

  2. Hello Sara! I think you asked an important question about why Kingston is so curious about her past families stories. After reading “No Name Woman”, It becomes evident that Kingston no longer wishes to participate in the shaming and blaming that her family imposed on the so called family outcasts. She does not want to stay silent about people like her aunt, as she feels it is contributing to the punishing of her aunt that has followed her aunt into the afterlife. Kingston has no desire to keep staying silent about these mistreated family members, and in order to do that, she needs to hear their stories first. Kingston seems to be embarrassed over not beginning to question things earlier “In the twenty years since I heard this story I have not asked for details nor said my aunt’s name; I do not know it” (16). Her silence has added to the long line of relatives that have forgotten her existence. This new found hope to story tell is Kingston’s way of keeping her aunt and others alike memorialized.

  3. Hey Sara! I like the way you interpreted Kingston’s story telling as an outlet for her imagination and curiosity about her family. I agree that the validity is questionable because of the liberties she took in her writing due to the blank spots in her past. To answer your second discussion question, although vague, “memoirs of a childhood among ghosts” allows the reader to begin to understand the sense of disconnect Kingston has to her history and the people in it. The statement made me think of her description of the truth about the rushed marriages of her aunt’s time. The women barely knew the men, who were present for no more than sometimes just a day before they left for America. They worked as strangers, providing for their distant family. According to Kingston, in speaking about her aunt and her husband, “When she tried to envision him, she only saw the black and white face in the group photograph the men had taken before leaving” (7). This use of imagery is used to explain how these “father figures” were no more than ghosts in the lives of the wives and children. The idea expressed in this quote is an indication of the way in which Kingston has convinced herself that she and her aunt are ironically similar in their feelings of estrangement from their family. It is also good portrayal of the general theme of the chapter: disconnect. The author yearns to know the lives of her ancestors and to learn from them. To fill in the gaps. However, all she has is the bits of information given to her by her traditional mother and her own wandering mind. I wonder if this theme will continue throughout the rest of the book.

  4. Hello, Sara! I was fascinated and engaged by your post and title (very unique). You had some great points about Kingston using her abstract imagination to create a story about what she thinks her aunt’s life may have been like. To answer your first question, I think one of the reasons why Kingston is so intrigued about her family’s past is because it has been way too long that she has not heard stories about her family. When Kingston says, “In the twenty years since I heard this story I have not asked for details nor said my aunt’s name; I do not know it” her quietness has added to the long line of relatives that have ignored her presence (16). To extrapolate, Kingston’s family were mistreated and treated unfairly that the stories deserve to be praiseworthy and told. Great post and good luck on your presentation! You got this!

    Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts. Vintage Books, 1989.

    – Makense Garcia

  5. Hi Sara! I really liked reading your blogpost and how you focused on Kingston’s imagination as your topic. To answer your first question, I think that she is so interested in her family’s past because of the stories her mother would tell her and the fact that everything seems to be so secretive. Although she is told the story about her aunt, her family does not mention her name once, which is why her aunt becomes a “ghost” to her. Near the end of this chapter, Kingston states “My aunt haunts me- her ghost drawn to me because now, after fifty years of neglect, I alone devote pages of paper to her…” (16). I think now that Kingston has grown older, she is accepting the fact that her family’s past is so hazy and that it has been on her mind ever since she was first told the story. The only way she can really let out these emotions is through her writing.

  6. Hey Sara! I really liked your blog post points, and I liked the idea of irony that came up towards the end of your post. Irony can be very important aspect of a story and I think it makes things a little more interesting. I do believe that Kingston was curious about her family due to the disconnect that she had with her family. I think she is very interested in her families past, as would most people who aren’t aware of family history. Kingston states “My aunt haunts me- her ghost drawn to me because now, after fifty years of neglect, I alone devote pages of paper to her…” (16). This to me shows that as she grew and her mind wondered into wanting to know more about her family and the individuals such as her Aunt that were hidden from her, she feels that some are with her since she was unable to know them. She is almost venting to her audience and stating her feelings and frustrations on the dynamic of the situation.

  7. Hi Sara! I really enjoyed reading your blog post and I was very intrigued by your first question. To answer it, she does not know a lot about her aunt because she just recently found out about her aunt. Her family does not like to talk about the aunt because she was shameful to them. She had a child out of wedlock and that was not accepted. The Chinese culture was not accepting of any kind of adultery and the child was not from her husband. Her mother wanted to make sure that no one else found out about her aunt by saying, “‘Don’t tell anyone you had an aunt. Your father does not want to hear her name. She has never been born.'” (Kingston 15). The curiosity stems from the fact that she can’t tell tell anyone about her aunt and how her mom was so harsh about her. Overall I loved reading your blog and I’m excited to hear your discussion in class.

  8. Hey Sara!! I found your blog post to be extremely interesting especially when you mention how it is up to the reader to decide how much of the story is made up and how much is actually real. For instance when the author says, “When they left, they took sugar and oranges to bless themselves. They cut pieces from the dead animals.”(P.1) It is obvious to me that at least half of this is a lie but some readers may believe this entire story to be the truth and I really love how the author managed to do that. You asked why we believe Kingston is so curious about the families past and the answer is simply because of how little they share. The history of this family is so low key and if not asked about, there is no way anyone would ever tell.

  9. Hi Sara! I enjoyed your blog thoroughly. The title caught my attention fast. To answer your first question about what makes Kingston curious about her families past is how she never got a lot of information about their history. People can get extremely curious about where they came from and to not know, can be frustrating. It is the same concept behind why orphans go looking for their parents when they are older. A person’s past is very personal, and there is not one person in the world that isn’t curious about their bloodline. Kingston’s mom said “Don’t tell anyone you had an aunt. Your father does not want to hear her name. She has never been born.'” (Kingston 15). This quote shows how her mother triggered her curiosity about her family. When I first read it, my interest peaked as well since the mother talked about the aunt in such a mysterious way that it became extremely intriguing. I think that Kingston making up theories of what happened to her aunt and guessing abut her reasoning of killing herself, and the baby is healthy. She has a right to know and to imagine answers is apart of life. Excellent blog post, I’m interested in your presentation!

  10. Hey Sara, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog post! Your title really captured me, and I wanted to see how you would relate “The Woman Warrior” to it. I liked the way that you compared Kingston’s curiosity to her family’s past. I also agree that Kingston is questionable because of the hazy past, also because Kingstons’ mom tells her information about her aunt that she thinks is necessary to tell which I consider a “single sided story”. “I have believed that sex was unspeakable and words so strong and fathers so frail that “aunt” would do my father mysterious harm. I have thought that my family, having settled among immigrants who had also been their neighbors in the ancestral land, needed to clean their name, and a wrong word would incite the kinspeople even here. But there is more to this silence: they want me to participate in her punishment”.To answer your question, I think the cover “memoirs of a girlhood among ghosts” reveals a lot about Kingston. Kingston now imagines her “nameless” aunt as a ghost who no one pays respect to. Kingston feels her aunt haunting her so she dedicated those pages to her.

  11. Hey Sara! I just wanted to start off by condoning you on the title you chose; “A Figment of the Imagination’ that is beautiful and truly speaks of the fabrications of Kingston’s stories. Like you quoted Kingston’s mother when she said “You must not tell anyone…” (1) that acts almost as a taunt in my eyes. As if she was saying, I’m going to leave this mysterious box here, but do not open it. Her mother’s statement alone I believe that provoked the inquisition. Her family’s past was intense and lead her to want to know more, and wasn’t a past you just heard about and forgot. Right off the bat after her mother tells her not to ever tell anyone, she informs her “In China your father had a sister who killed herself. She jumped into the family well.” (1) She’s inquisitive because her family’s past is something to be asking questions about, it speaks for itself. The cover “memoirs of a girlhood among ghosts” I believe sets a tone for the readers. When picking up this book I truthfully didn’t know what I was getting into and left me wanting to know more. This reveals her passion and her interpretation of her family and makes for an intriguing read.

  12. Hi Sara! I wanted to comment on your blog post because I immediately was intrigued by your title, and as I continued reading I thoroughly agree with your main point. Kingston’s mother telling her about her aunt completely opened up her mind to want to learn more about her family. To answer your second question, Kingston becomes so inquisitive to learn about her families’ past because she wants to know where she comes from, and learning about the story of her aunt makes her wonder if there are other stories similar to her aunt. Kingston’s mother tells her “Your father does not want to hear her name. She has never been born.’” (Kingston 15) This quote shows that her family will bury memories if they have the slight possibility of making their family look bad. Her family comes from a culture where certain things will never be fully accepted, and they hide crucial details about their life from Kingston, which she wants to find out for herself as she grows older.

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