Maxine Hong Kingston and the Search for Identity

Maxine Hong Kingston and the Search for Identity

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Maxine Hong Kingston and the Search for identity


Maxine Hong Kingston is in search of herself. She tries to find herself as a woman in a man's world, as a Chinese in America, and, as a daughter instead of a son. In all her writings one can see her search for her identity. One can feel her rebellion to convention, her need to break the barriers of society, her desire to make a perfect world where everyone is treated as an equal. But most of all her writings depict her as a strong and proud woman who is willing to battle against convention and society to preserve her convictions

Kingston is on a search to find her identity. She tries to find herself as a Chinese in American society. There is a struggle within herself to distinguish that which is Chinese from that which is American. Kingston tries to find herself and her voice in America. She says, "We American-Chinese had to whisper to make ourselves American feminine. Apparently we whispered even more softly than the Americans."(Kingston 714) Kingston tries to make herself fit into American society by "...invent(ing) an American-feminine speaking personality."(Kingston 714) She writes that she needed an "American-feminine" personality to have dates. A deep rooted insecurity can be sensed in Kingston. She does not believe in her own attractiveness. She feels a need to become another person to be accepted in American society. She's incapable of attracting dates but her invented personality can.

Though Kingston is on a quest to find herself there seems to be a conflict in her mind between the person she really is and the person she wants to become. In "Silence" she talks of her desire to have an American sounding voice. In the essay "Woman Warrior" Kingston dreams of herself as a female avenger, taking revenge on the society that denied her family and herself happiness. She sees herself as a strong, capable, ruthless warrior--- almost a man. Kingston is unhappy with the person that she is. She seems to be unable to meet her expectations of herself. The writer struggles to deal with the person she is and the person she aspires to be.

Though she tries to find herself , she cannot find her place, and her voice in America. Kingston searches for her voice in America yet she becomes almost mute. She writes that as a child she used to cover her pictures in black.

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And that is what she does to herself. She covers the person that she is in a different color. The writer does not want to hear her "Chinese voice" but by denying her Chinese voice she almost becomes mute. In a similar way by denying the Chinese in her she would lose a large of herself and her identity. The writer has to find China before she can find herself. Kingston writes, "Those of us in the first American generations have had to figure out how the invisible world the emigrants built around our childhood fit into solid America."(Kingston 700)

In trying to find herself Kingston starts discovering "the invisible world" of China and what is Chinese. She tries to come to terms with her relationship to China and to the Chinese. Yet her discovery of China horrifies her. She realizes that she is no more than "geese" or "maggots" in Chinese society. That she has no value to the Chinese. She is dispensable, with no more worth than a slave, because she is a woman.

However the writer cannot accept this. She says that as a child "Whenever one of my parents or the emigrant villagers said," 'Feeding girls is like feeding cowbirds,' " I would thrash on the floor and scream so hard I couldn't talk. I couldn't stop."(Kingston 46) manifests itself Yet it seems that she is almost impotent with rage. Though the villagers and her parents keep saying the same phrase over and over again to her there is nothing she can do. China has her bound.

The cruelty of China and the Chinese shock her. In the essay "Shaman" she writes of a baby who was left to die in the pigsty because it was born without an anus. In the same essay she talks of female infanticide. Her mother was a mid-wife and she wonders whether her mother killed baby girls by holding their face in ashes, as was then customary in China. Kingston talks of a tradition in China where a monkey is eaten alive. The villagers laugh while the monkey cries in pain. When she looks to China to give her answers. She rebels against these very answers. She cannot come to terms with China. She learns of China from her mother. In a way she feels orphaned and alone. She cannot possibly see herself as a part of this cruel world in which her mother lived. The world that her parents seemed very much to be a part. The same China that bewilders her and leaves her cold.

However in this world she seems to find her voice as a rebel. Her mind rebels against the Chinese and their customs. Though she herself cannot quite identify it, words that compare her to "geese" and "maggots"destroy her belief in herself. They destroy her pride. The one thing that she is not willing to give up for America or China. Her pride would not allow her to be a second-class citizen in either China or America.. Yet it occurs to her that she is. In China she is inferior to men. She writes that she "marched to change the world, but (she) did not turn into a boy." (Kingston 47) To her parents her straight A's had no effect, she was still just a female. Earning the grades for her husband's family.

In America too she is a second-class citizen. She writes, "And I have other words --- 'chink' words and 'gook' words too--that they do not fit my skin."(Kingston 53) Her pride will not accept her secondary status. In her eyes she is the female avenger, the Woman Warrior. She is the woman who can defeat an army of men. She was the rebel that "would show(her) mother and father that girls had no outward tendency".

Her rebellion is manifested in a variety of ways. Kingston rebels against the idea that men are any better by showing a contempt for them in her own life. She describes her father as 'frail'. In the essay, White Tigers she writes,"At my great uncle's funeral I tested out feeling glad that he was dead--the six foot bearish masculinity of him." (Kingston 470) And that is her desire. To kill the idea of masculinity. In her essay "On Discovery" ,Kingston talks of a man who was slowly converted to a woman. Her desire to kill masculinity is her rebellion to sexism. In her world with the death of masculinity she would no longer be a "maggot" but a whole person. In the "women's Land" she would be able to find herself.

Though she wants to kill masculinity she is also envious of it. It is boys who seem to get everything---the love of her parents, her ancestors, and her country. She is has to accept the leftovers. And this envy manifests itself in a dislike and contempt for both men and masculinity. When she writes about her aunt in "No Name Woman" she says, "The other man was not, after all, much different from her husband.. They both gave orders: she followed. "If you tell your family, I'll beat you, I'll kill you. Be here next week." No one talked sex ever. And she might have separated the rapes from the rest of her livening if she did not have to buy her oil from him or gather wood n the same forest. I want her fear to have lasted just as long as the rape so her fear could be contained. No drawn out fear. But women at sex hazarded birth hence lifetimes. The fear did not stop but permeated everywhere. She told the man, "I think I'm pregnant." He organized the raid against her." (Kingston 702)

In Kingston's world she paints pictures of men as cowards and brutes. Just as the man in her aunt's life. They do not have the valor of the "female avenger" but they are violent. They will rape but will not bear the consequences of it. Men are despicable and thoughtless. Her opinion of men is cynical and harsh. Though she is looking for equality, she believes that men are essentially weaker. Men are "frail", women are warriors.

The rebel in Kingston makes it a tougher life for her. She cannot find her place in the world where people are beyond gender, color, and ethnicity. In the essay "White Tigers", Kingston refuses to type invitations for her boss, because the restaurant he had chosen was being picketed by CORE and NAACP. She succeeded in losing her job. But to her she was not only rebelling because she wanted to end racism but because she was the warrior. It was her personal war, her duty as a female avenger, her responsibility as a strong individual. Kingston's intelligence and pride will not allow her to work with a man she considers a "stupid racist". To be under his employment would be denying her own intelligence.

In the essay, "A Song for the Barbarian Reed Pipe" Kingston writes, "I hated fragility." She has grown to have an intolerance for weakness. To her typing up those invitations and obeying her bosses command would have been a sign of weakness. She needs to know that even though she can never be the female avenger who" storms across China to take back our farm from the Communists.......to rage across the United States to take back the laundry..." (Kingston 49) she is not a weak woman. She is as strong as a man.

Yet her rebellion in her life is impotent. It has no affect. Her parents and the Chinese still feel that women are "maggots". The boss will continue to be a racist. Kingston' strongest form of rebellion is her writing. In her writing she exposes the society that prefers to be under cover. She talks of sex and powerful women and weak men, she writes of rape and adultery, she discusses female ambition, she boasts of her success in America. Her writing makes the "ghosts" of China real. Her writing exposes the racist, the sexist, and the harsh realties of society. Her writing makes her mother real while thrusting her father into oblivion. Her writing depicts her personality as a woman. Her writing is her real rebellion.

However to Kingston writing is much more than a rebellion. It is her form of expressing her emotions. It is her way of understanding herself. Kingston can face her fears, her disappointments in her writing. She can express her anger and passion. These elements can be found in the voice in which she writes. In her essay "On Discovery" she writes, "the less you'll struggle the less it'll hurt." But that is not how she would like to live.

Kingston struggles and it hurts. She struggles against the society that denies her her true powers because of her gender. A society that will not accept her for herself. And her writings reflect her struggle. Her essays are interspersed with reality and fantasy. She slits back and forth between them. And between this real and unreal world she tries to find the real Maxine Hong Kingston.
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