In the book The Woman Warrior, by Maxine Kingston, a story of a girl trapped between the culture of her family’s past and the culture currently surrounding her is presented. The girl, Maxine, enters into conflict with her mother and what can be explained as an old and traditional China. Maxine’s own beliefs are found in the newer American way of life
with her attempts to assimilate to the culture, making it difficult for her to feel any relation between the two very different environments. It is through these tribulations that Maxine is a “woman warrior
” coming to age as a Chinese-American.
Maxine, being of the first generation of her family to be born in America, only knows about China from what she hears in her mother’s “talk-stories.” These stories are told to act as lessons on how the Chinese people were and should be, and are often vary critical. In “No Name Woman
,” the tale of Maxine’s aunt who was shunned from her family for having an affair shows how careful young women must be when growing up in Chinese culture. “My aunt haunts me—her ghost drawn to me because now, after fifty years of neglect, I alone devoted pages to her…” (17). Maxine feels remorse and can relate to her aunt because she too feels a sense of alienation from her traditional Chinese and seemingly narrow-minded heritage.
With the start of “At the Western Palace,” an encounter between Brave Orchid, Maxine’s mother, and Moon Orchid, her other aunt, shows Maxine how far removed from Chinese culture she really is. The daily routines, clothing, foods, and the style of eating all seem normal to Maxine, but are a real culture shock for recently arrived Moon Orchid. The false assumptions about American life that her mother helped plague her mind with, begin to die. America represents the new life and change, which Maxine and eventually her family long to be a part of. “Oh, Sister, I am so happy here. No one ever leaves. We are all women here.”
Though struggles about her mother’s talk-stories, and her experiences in America with her family, Maxine works toward knowing what it is to be a Chinese-American. Her prejudices set in place by her mother about America are broken down with her own life experiences and feelings. Maxine also plans to take initiative to find out the truth about her traditional family’s heritage. “Soon I want to go to China and find out who’s lying..” (204). She knows that to be a “warrior,” she can never break free from one culture without having to abandon the other, be it in traditional China or new America.