on October 15, 2006
Kingston strives to weave a profound, complex story about being a Chinese-American in The Woman Warrior, but usually only succeeds in coming up with an unorganized, choppy book that doesn't consistently flow or excite. She explores the racism towards Chinese-America women with her own family's history by juxtaposing the comfortable with the unknown, the fantastic with the mundane. Some chapters are successful in portraying the characters as isolated but strong women, but others only succeed in making the reader feel confused and unconnected to the story.
The novel begins by detailing the story of Kingston's aunt, who was shamed after having an illegitimate child; the first chapter encompasses most of the themes and styles of the rest of the novel, and, like the rest of the book, it is excessively ambiguous. Kingston constantly switches between past tense and present tense truth and imagination. In a single chapter, Kingston describes both her own life and her aunt's life as she pictures it from the stories her mother tells. While these elements are used as a stylistic device for an effect of uncertainty and ambiguity, they are too overwhelming, especially in the first chapter of the story. The reader does not know who Kingston, the narrator, is yet, but the author instantly jumps into narrating two overlapping stories. This chapter does, however, have redeeming qualities. It immediately reflects Kingston's gift for vivid imagery and description, so that, even if the reader may not understand the plot, he or she may still appreciate the colorful and detailed pictures Kingston draws in her narration.
The second chapter, least connected with Kingston's own life, is the most epic and exciting, especially because of Kingston's excellent descriptions. Again, Kingston does not make clear the point of view; it is difficult to realize immediately that Kingston is actually describing the tale of Fa Mu Lan, but in a first-person perspective. This does, however, make the chapter more emotional for the reader. As for the storyline itself, it is, I think, the best one in the book. The reader does not feel obligated to relate to Kingston's struggles with racism and acceptance, because the story does not relate to Kingston. The story is a fantasy, filled with magical elements as well as intense emotions such as love, determination, and spirit. The reader feels liberated as Fa Mu Lan triumphs over boorish warriors despite her original status as a girl. Later, however, Kingston attempts to connect Fa Mu Lan's fantastic tale to her own struggles as a Chinese-American. She first describes her inability to assert herself, and then claims that her true power is in her writing. This brief conclusion feels irrelevant and stark compared to the brilliant story of Fa Mu Lan. Though Kingston tries to tie the story back to her own life, she ends up making her life seem bleak and unimportant in contrast with Fa Mu Lan's life.
Kingston draws the following story from an outside source, her mother. This chapter is another intriguing and riveting part of Kingston's novel, coincidentally, it also involves supernatural elements and follows the tale of a woman who triumphs over typical gender roles. Kingston creates a fascinating tale by using the perfect blend of dialogue and unusual descriptions. The plot of this chapter, which involves Kingston's mother's transition from a revered doctor in China to a laboring wife in America, again contains two contrasting themes. And again, the narration that involves fantasy, growth, and triumph is exciting and absorbing, while the narration of struggles of American life are dull. Kingston attempts to draw the reader into all parts of her story, but the parts that relate to the struggles of female Chinese-Americans are only dull, not profound, because they are too unfamiliar to impact the reader, and too unremarkable to entice the reader.
The final chapters of The Woman Warrior, which revert back to the ambiguous, unorganized format of sections of previous chapters, are not very satisfying. Kingston begins to describe yet another disconnected aspect of struggling as a Chinese in America, this time narrating her aunt's story from a third-person perspective. While Kingston is able to depict the conflict caused when a traditional Chinese clashes with modernized Americans, it is difficult to sympathize with her aunt. Kingston moves too quickly from one story to another, and, apart from the themes, the stories are almost completely disconnected. The last chapter is the most disorientated as Kingston quickly shifts back to narrating her own childhood. Even the themes in this chapter seem disconnected from themes from the previous chapters. Kingston portrays herself as a cruel and violent girl. This is an awful way to end the book, as the reader feels only contempt and confusion towards Kingston.
Your reaction towards the book will depend on your personal history. You are probably more likely to enjoy the book if you have experienced hardships arising from cultural differences and isolation. Though Kingston displays a gift for language- especially description and epic storytelling, her attempts to incite the reader's empathy do not succeed.
on February 12, 2003
Kingston, with her novel about misplaced and awkward lives in society, uses the first person narrative to make the reader understand the problems and opinions of herself, and the way she sees the world. A story about a Chinese girl lost and confused in a new culture, The Woman Warrior has very strong and savage views. These opinions are only enhanced by the first person, and give a greater impact to the message. Slightly disturbed and greatly angered by unfain treatment, Kingston's book is a rather hateful one. She uses strong words, blunt remarks, and subliminal messages to give the reader a feeling that she is simply lost in a world full of hallow ghosts. Throughout the entire novel she portrays herself as the victim, in an attempt to gain the reader's pity. A sad reflection of her own life, The Woman Warrior is truly a novel about a lost soul in an unfamiliar place.
One would first assume Kingston to be a very bitter person, but her strong opinions are formed by the society she lives in. An old Chinese saying, "Better to raise geese than girls," (pg. 46), angers Kingston as a child. Her entire lifestyle and culture, American and Chinese, revolves around the concept of male dominance. Throughout the book the reader sees the cynical hatred Kingston holds for anyone who who does not sympathize with her race and gender; even by writing this book she asks for the pity of others. Such an example can be found when Brave Orchid (Kingston's mother) and Moon Orchid (Kingston's aunt), set out to avenge the marriage of Moon Orchid's husband and new wife. It is not only the cultural differences which set the awkwardness of the confrontation, but Kingston's mother's rage against the weak, (a trait later found in Kingston), which make this argument concerning divorse troublesome. Moon Orchid is shy and afraid, while Brave Orchid, anger fuled by Moon Orchid's timidness and her own extreamly feminist views, demands that she reclaim her title as wife. By the way Kingston words and retells her mother's expiriances, the reader understands the implied message that it is the husband who divorced who is evil, and the shy female who is right; this makes the first person narrative effective in that the reader sees the very strong emotions felt by Kingston and her mother. THe first person is also used to create bias opinions and exagerated comments, such as with Moon Orchid's "animalistic" children. Seen as lying, rude, vain, and selfish, the harsh words of Kingston try to make the reader think the children really are so selfish and evil, when infact it is only a misunderstood cultural difference. By being in the first person, the reader sees the opinions of Kingston, and must try to formulate what is truth and what is exagerated. Kingston, her own views tainted and twisted by society's treatment, uses the first person point of view very well to try to gain the sympathy of the reader.
Well written and very vague, this book leaves the reader searching for the truth rather than Kingston's bias views. Slightly disturbed, she is able to claim the pity of her readers by displaying herself as a victim of racial and cultural differences, and the rest of the world as mindless and uncaring drones. With the first person narrative, she can turn the reader's opinion to fit her own. She very effectivly gain's the readers pity.
on July 27, 1999
Don't be misled, "Woman Warrior' is not a biography or 'memoir' as it is marketed. Her publishers expected her to win an award with this _novel_ (read: fiction) but didn't want it to compete with Toni Morrison in the fiction category so they changed 'Woman Warrior' into 'non-fiction' or biography or whatever and it did win a presitigous award. However, it is incredibly insulting to the intelligence and to Asian-American sensibilities to approach this work of fiction as a personal narrative. I think it was very involving and written in a non-linear and entertaining style. I appreciated the fact that Kingston voiced her intense anger and articulated the feelings that I'm sure many Asian-American women can identify with. (I sure could identify with boycotting house chores as a political statement.) In this sense, I think her book is refreshing as it features an UN-apologetically pissed off Asian-American woman as opposed to other authors who beat around the bush, use pseudo-artistic and obtuse metaphors, or apologize for any 'resentment' they may feel towards anyone or anything. From the rave reviews that I'd read about it I guess I was set-up for a let down. Kingston is just one Asian-American author writing about 'Asian-American matters' and this is not a definitive work of Asian-Ameriacan literature. In fact, I don't believe such a definitive work exists. While this book does delve into the matter of identity and race in a more complex and realistic manner than most books, it still falls short by my standards. The world view is still a bit too binary and it seems that the allusions to 'life back in China' is romanticized if not out-right exoticized. Otherwise, it's entertainment value is a good deal higher than most popular works of fiction. I think it's a good read for anyone, as it will at least make you think.
on February 19, 1999
This book was strange it had no plot. This book just went on and on. none of the stories connected with each other, that is what made the book strange. Maxine Hong Kingston jumps from past to present, she leaves the reader wondering what will she do next. That is one of the strong points of the book. From the point of view, of the other readers you either liked this book or hated it. The stories in the book was awesom, I really liked the way she told them, and the way she connected them to the text, and the narrators life. There were many quotes that I liked but this was my favorite ".. We are going to carve revenge on your back, we'll write out oaths and names wherever you go, whatever happenes to you people will konw your sacrafice." This is talking about the Woman Warrior, I admired her courage in how she stood for what she believed in. She was my favorite character. The stories in the book were the only thing that kept me interested. As I said this book was about as interesting as my sister.
on February 18, 1999
The Woman Warrior, was set up as a series of stories working from the past to the present telling the story of one girls family, and the histroy of their country. All the stories have the common theme of a weak girl. These stories of weak women were not uncommon to the Chinese talk-stories because of the fact, as the book says, "Women were sucessful if they grew up to be but wives or slaves." Throughout each section of the book there were interesting stories that would progress to the point where, the woman would find who they were and triamph over what was holding them back. The theme of the strong woman was present in each section, although it was sometimes hard to find. The idea which the book was base around is explained in a section when the mother was telling her daughter she would have to grow up to be a wife, to please her husband, and the girl thinks back to what her mother had taught her before and says, "She taught me the story of the warrior woman Fa Mu Lan, I would have to grow up to be a warrior woman. Over all this book was an interesting and entertaining look into the Chinses culture and history. Although some parts are a little jumpy and can loose you at times, it is worth the time it takes to understand.
on February 16, 1999
I'm an 11th grader from City High School, in Iowa City, Iowa. I was assigned to read this book, by my US Lit teacher, for our minority lit unit. When I started reading this book, I didn't think I'd like it that much. The book starts right away with the talk stories, and constantly jumps from story to story. Although these stories are intersting, and give you a lot of background on the actient Chinese traditions, and ways of life, the way the stories are told, and the gruesomenss of the some of the stories, makes the book very hard to follow at times. Despite that, it is very interesting to read about the difference between the American and Chinese cultures,and the ways that they clash. Once you get through all of the talk stories, to the stories that actually have a plot, you see how the talk stories tie into their everyday life, even when they are trying to fit into our lifestyle, and the book becomes much more interesting, not to mention easier to read. This book is full of culture, and is a wonderful way to learn about how different ehtnic groups interact together. It's definately worth reading.
on February 15, 1999
I thought that The Woman Warrior was a pretty good book, considering that I had to read it. I am glad that I did though. It gave me the chance to understand and experience a different sort of writing style. It was hard for me to get into the book at first. I didn't really know what to expect, and was surprised when I learned that there would be a lot of switching back and forth from the "talk stories" to the family's real life. Once I understood that aspect, I had to move on to the characters and what each of their roles was. I thought that the author did a good job of creating the characters, although it was difficult not knowing many names. You really got a chance to get into each of their minds and sort of understand what they are thinking and feeling. I thought that a good example of this was when Brave Orchid's sister came to the United States, and lived with her sister and children. When she is constantly over the children's shoulders wondering what they are doing, you understand how the child feels, you almost hear their thoughts, and I'm sure that all of us can relate to an annoying relative! One of my complaints about this book was that it jumped around too much for me. As I said before, you must get to used to the fact that there are many stories being told, but it is hard at times to know what is a story and what is the character's real life. I would compare The Woman Warrior to The Joy Luck Club because they are both Chinese-American writers, and I thought that there were similarities in the writing of both books. I would like to read The Woman Warrior a second time to get a better understanding of all of the events. I am sure that I missed something the first time reading it, and it might do me good to read it again sometime. But for now, I am just glad to have it all over and done with!! :)
on July 6, 2001
Kingston's book has some fantastic passages that tie you tightly to the page, but, unfortunatly, inbetween these gripping moments, her thoughts and words drift in a random fashion that makes it difficult to pay attention.
The book is divided into four sections, interweaving myth, reality, history and present day (well, the present day of the narration)into a fragmented portrait of Chinese/Chinese-American culture.
At times, the narrative is amazingly insightful, I found myself learning a lot about Kingston and her families displacement. At other times I felt lost, and had a difficult time digesting the words. (I would get to the bottom of the page and realize I had been thinking about something else).
I recommend this book; when her narrative sticks to the story at hand, it's a wonderful, thought provoking account. The parts that drag or more to the point lose themselves don't by any means weigh out the good.
on September 26, 2000
I began reading Kingston's book thinking that I was going to absolutely hate it, but I really didn't. In fact, I found the book very enjoyable. It's very simply written and easy to read. As long as readers persist with trying to understand the chronology and the relationship between the portrayals of the different women, they will realize how wonderfully designed this work is. If you read this book, you must understand that even though she is speaking from the first person point of view, in many cases, it is not really her voice; rather, in a sophisticated narrative technique, she takes on the identities of her relatives and role models, perhaps to relate their experiences to her own. Readers should also pay close attention to ghosts. They play an extremely important role in the point of the stories. Overall, I think this book is certainly worth reading...it sends a good message about the human struggle.
on March 1, 2001
It's hard to imagine that a book with a serious intent would be trashed by one group of readers and idealized by another. But that's American education today.
If you back off from the politically correct nonsense and the right wing attackers, this book tries to explain what it is like to be a Chinese-American woman through mythic input, the realistic stories balanced against the Mul-lan legends. Like all great literature, it tells one part of the story. Do you really think sane, mature readers take this as the only truth of the Chinese diaspora?
I learn something from every book, and, unfortunately, never everythng. Take this as part of the subjective truth of Chinese Women in immigration, and you can enjoy and learn from this novel. Or you can make a fuss about an evolution of cultures which will pass you by in any case.