By Humaam Said
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts is a book written by Chinese-American author Maxine Hong Kingston. The autobiography documents the five stories that Kingston narrates to preach a message about empowerment. However, this sharply contrasts with her Chinese upbringing to relate the last message about freedom to the audience.
There are many messages about empowerment and culture in this book. For example, Kingston’s mother was a well-educated nurse that was her own “Woman warrior.” Each chapter details a different story about women craving independence from their cultural gender roles. While Kingston’s mother was a strong woman, she eventually leans back into accepting her role as a mother.
Throughout the autobiography, there is a strong message about cultural expectations and roles in Chinese culture. Like most cultures, women tend to be seen as the homemaker while men are the ones leading the family. As described by Kingston, Chinese culture tends to the ideal of a traditional woman who would be submissive and pure. This can be seen when the unnamed woman, Kingston’s aunt, is exiled after having an affair and bearing an illegitimate child. This child serves as a symbol of freedom for Kingston—the freedom and liberation of sexuality that is deprived of Chinese girls.
Even when we meet our second “woman warrior,” we are faced back with the message that Chinese culture propagates. Fa Mu Lan, a heroic female warrior from a traditional Chinese legend, is shown to have an empowered life going onto the war front. However, Fa Mu Lan settles down with a family and finds her life at peace at home: the ideal for most people who follow Chinese culture. Kingston, the free-thinking child, didn’t want to be held down by the standards that were being shown to her. She imagines herself as a free soldier left outside her comfort zone and on the battlefield. She wants to be free from the gender role that she is being pushed into from birth.
In the last chapter of the book, Kingston relates her message about finding her voice by… using her voice loudly. In the last chapter, Kingston lashes out at her mother and berates her for the way she has been treated all her life. Kingston hated the way she was forced to be a perfect girl to be a perfect companion for another man. She eventually finds her way through discovering what she wants to say, and, in a way, she finds her voice again by writing the autobiography.
The book is a solid read for those looking to get a strong message about empowerment. As an Indian who has seen multiple movies that hit too close to home, reading Woman Warrior as a person of Chinese descent or as a female isn’t too bad. You may find a few things ring true and you may just find your own voice against the many injustices that you’ve had to deal with throughout your life.