“The Woman Warrior” is an autobiography written by Maxine Hong Kingston. Kingston displays her life in creative short stories throughout this autobiography. In the short story “Shaman,” she talks about her mother, “Brave Orchird,” and how her life was enticing and eventful. The ghosts haunt Kingston that her mother brought in her life, she paints an image for the readers about the conflicts that her relationship with her mother had brought her. There is a distrust that Kingston has within her mother, a reason for this distrust is from not knowing whether her mother had taken part in killing babies or not. Brave Orchird would describe to Kingston the common practice of killing baby girls by suffocation in a box of ashes. Kingston then suffers from nightmares about preventing babies from being killed. She said that she “would protect the dream baby, not let it suffer, not let it out of my sight. (86)” This could be a direct result from the shame that she feels from her mother, possibly killing babies without certainty. While her mother thinking that telling her these stories will help her self- esteem about being a woman, it does the opposite. Kingston’s dreams consume her about her saving the babies, and she always fails to do so, resulting in her questioning her sanity. Her dreams show how deep down Kingston is a good person and how influential her mother was on her. This also relates to how impressionable Kingston was in “No Name Woman” when her mother told her, “You must not tell anyone… what I am about to tell you.” That is additionally a difficult thing to ask of a child, and her mother continues to do this to Kington for her entire life.
Another childhood fear that Kingston suffered from was about the expectations put on females, which started from her mother’s stories about female slavery. She had this intense fear that she was unwanted as a daughter and would be sold as a slave in her lifetime. This is yet another example of how Brave Orchirds stories instilled fear in her daughter and uncertainty about herself. She talks about how she does not want to go to China because she believes that in China, her parents would sell her. This could be a reason that she can only “smell” China and not see it. It could be her subconscious blocking out China because she believes it is a bad place. Kingston believed that her mother cared more about her slave girl than she did her daughter. She said, “My mother’s enthusiasm for me is duller than for the slave girl. (82)” When Kingston had said this, it shined a light on the fact that she is insecure about herself and believed that she was not good enough for anything, especially her mother. A mother’s approval is pivotal for a daughter’s self-esteem, and Brave Orchid damaged that for Kingston. Her telling this in a story form shows the beauty of storytelling since it paints her experience gracefully.
At the end of the chapter, Brave Orchid says about the children who died in China that “No, you must have been dreaming. You must have been making up stories. You are all the children there are. (103)” to Kingston. This shows how she blocked out the trauma of them ever dying, which also relates to “No Name Woman” and how her family didn’t even honor her memory. This ultimately even makes her homeland unknown to Brave Orchid. The unknown can be a scary thing, especially with a young girl such as Kingston. Kingston displays her childhood in an enticing method that shows the magnitude of how impressionable she was to her mother’s stories due to the uncertainty of them.
- What is the significance of the unknown in life? Especially in Kingstons life?
- What does Brave Orchid represent? How does Kingston view her mother?