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Motherly Love in The Woman Warrior
What is it that constitutes a mother-daughter relationship? In our society mothers are generally portrayed as nurturing and loving people by the media. We see one mother cradling her newborn baby in a diaper ad in a Woman's World magazine, while another lovingly gives her child cold medicine in a television commercial. In fact, today it is even considered a beautiful thing, rather than a crude and exposing action, for a mother to breast feed her child in public. In light of this, for Maxine Hong Kingston's mother, maternal instincts evidently played no such role in her relationship with her daughter, both emotionally and physically.
Through "Shaman", the third chapter of her novel, Kingston makes it clear to her readers that the ties that bound herself to her mother were made up of anything but love. She relates the tale of her mother as a young, determined student, distant from her peers. She had worked her way through medical school in an attempt to prove her worth as a scholar, as well as that of a strong and steadfast woman. It seems that it was this quality that she carried with her throughout the rest of her life. While other mothers choose to protect their children from unnecessary evils, the author's mother had "given [her] pictures to dream-- nightmare babies that recur[red] again and again" (86). She instilled in her young daughter such a strong fear of war and bombing sprees that she would often "dream that the sky [was] covered from horizon to horizon with rows of airplanes, dirigibles, rocket ships, [and] flying bombs" (96). Kingston had additionally been taught to view all Americans as being ghosts, as well as being repeatedly informed that someday they would return home so they could buy "real" furniture and "smell flowers for the first time" (98). Finally, even as an adult we watch as her mother imparts on her the feeling of guilt, "responsibility for time, responsibility for intervening oceans," for essentially keeping her from being a woman warrior (108).
In the physical sense, we never actually see Kingston's mother touch her or even hear her say "I love you." As a child the author recalls that her "mother's enthusiasm for [her was] duller than that for the slave girl" her mother had so loved back in China (82).
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