The Woman Warrior

Feminist Cultural Identity Memoir

Maxine Hong Kingston
Maxine Hong Kingston, 1989. Anthony Barboza / Getty Images

Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior is a widely read memoir first published in 1976. The fancifully narrated postmodern autobiography is regarded as an important feminist work.

Genre-Bending Feminist Memoir

The full title of the book is The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. The narrator, a representation of Maxine Hong Kingston, hears stories of her Chinese heritage told by her mother and grandmother.

The “ghosts” are also people that she meets in the U.S., whether they are white policeman ghosts, bus driver ghosts, or other fixtures of society that remain separate from immigrants such as her. 

Additionally, the title evokes the mystery of what is true and what is only imagined throughout the book.  During the 1970s, feminists were successful in getting readers and scholars to re-evaluate the traditional white male canon of literature.  Books such as The Woman Warrior support the feminist criticism idea that traditional patriarchal structure is not the only prism through which a reader should view and evaluate a writer’s work.

Contradictions and Chinese Identity

The Woman Warrior begins with the story of the narrator’s aunt, “No Name Woman,” who is shunned and attacked by her village after becoming pregnant while her husband is away. No Name Woman ends up drowning herself in the well. The story is a warning: do not become disgraced and unspeakable.

  

Maxine Hong Kingston follows this story by asking how a Chinese-American can overcome the identity confusion brought about when immigrants change and hide their own names, hiding what is Chinese about them.

As a writer, Maxine Hong Kinston examines the cultural experience and struggles of Chinese-Americans, particularly the female identity of Chinese-American women.

  Rather than taking a rigid stance against a repressive Chinese tradition, The Woman Warrior considers examples of misogyny in Chinese culture while reflecting on the racism in the U.S. against Chinese-Americans.

The Woman Warrior discusses foot-binding, sexual slavery, and infanticide of baby girls, but it also tells of a woman who brandishes a sword to save her people. Maxine Hong Kingston recounts learning about life through the stories of her mother and grandmother. The women pass along a female identity, a personal identity, and a sense of who the narrator is as a woman in a patriarchal Chinese culture.

Influence

The Woman Warrior is widely read in college courses, including literature, women’s studies, Asian studies, and psychology, to name a few. It has been translated into three dozen languages. 

The Woman Warrior is seen as one of the first books to herald the explosion of the memoir genre in the late 20th century.

Some critics said that Maxine Hong Kingston encouraged Western stereotypes of Chinese culture in The Woman Warrior. Others accepted her use of Chinese mythology as a postmodern literary success. Because she personalizes political ideas and uses her individual experience to say something about a larger cultural identity, Maxine Hong Kingston’s work reflects the feminist idea of "the personal is political."

The Woman Warrior won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1976. Maxine Hong Kingston has received numerous awards for her contributions to literature.

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Napikoski, Linda. "The Woman Warrior." ThoughtCo, Mar. 25, 2017, thoughtco.com/kingstons-the-woman-warrior-3528991. Napikoski, Linda. (2017, March 25). The Woman Warrior. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/kingstons-the-woman-warrior-3528991 Napikoski, Linda. "The Woman Warrior." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/kingstons-the-woman-warrior-3528991 (accessed November 22, 2017).