美国文化 essay


Yifei Ren


???? ---- 《American Ways》

June 7, 2011

After reading《The Woman Warrior》

----Analysis of the image of the ghost in The Woman


In China, it is not hard to distinguish a poet. When poets feel sad, they do not speak out about their feelings. Instead, they write about flowers falling in the late spring; they write about grasses dying in the autumn fields. They write in such a subtle and indirect manner—subtle and indirect, yet so close to our souls, like little scratches on our hearts. Maxine Hong Kingston writes that way. She is like those poets who write about flowers when feeling sad. When she was young and treated unfairly she used to scream. But in her memoir written after she grew up, she screams no more. Instead, she turns her bitter life into poems and gives them beautiful names. And those poems are more compelling than the screaming which finally diminished in her mother’s scolding in the old days.

In The Woman Warrior, Kingston tells her own stories as well as others’

stories. Those stories all reflect Kingston’s experience of growing up in Chinese American society as a girl. Their fantasy and reality compose her life, which is a battle against the discrimination against women and the conflict between Chinese and American culture. There are four characters – Kingston’s no name third aunt, the white tiger girl, Brave Orchid and Ts’ai Yen—who can be counted as the fantasy women warriors to whom Kingston looked up.

The memoir begins with the story of Kingston’s third aunt, who killed herself in the drinking well after giving birth to her child whose father was unknown. This chapter indicates the origins of the discrimination against women within Chinese American society. This unfair tradition haunted the villagers of New Society Village, who sailed across the ocean to the New World, just as Kingston’s third aunt haunted her. Her third aunt’s isolation by the villagers mirrors her own isolation by her river bandit uncle and those villagers who said ―feeding girls is feeding cowbirds‖. They also shared the rebels against the unjust mortal restrictions placed on women. Though they had never met each other and they were living in the different time periods, Kingston had a strong connection with her third aunt, with whom she shared the same fate, the fate of suffering which is determined by being born a girl and the fate of fighting injustice as women warriors.

Those stories about ghosts are one of the most important features of this novel. Maxine searches through her family’s past, and other stories which are

also ridden with ghosts, in hopes of finding a role model. The importance of ghosts in the story, and in Maxine’s life is represented by the book’s subtitle "Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts."

There are thousands of ghost stories in Chinese culture. The novel Journey to the West, which is one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature, is full of ghosts, most of which are evil, and eat people. The novel Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, which is a collection of nearly five-hundred mostly-supernatural tales written by Pu Songlin, is also full of ghosts, though most of them are warm and kind-hearted. Not all ghosts were evil in Chinese culture, and literature.

The image of the ghost in Chinese culture changes with the given circumstances. Ghosts could be, ethereal beings who still dwell in our world, memories, or even real people. When the western powers invaded in 1860, they ended up holding power in China for almost a hundred years. At that time, the Chinese used ―ghost‖ as a derogatory term for the invaders; they called European invaders "west foreign ghosts,‖ and Japanese invaders as "east foreign ghosts.‖ That’s how real people became referred to as ghosts. Maxine uses this terminology to refer to some Americans who would come up to the door of her house. She called them ghosts, even though they were real, palpable beings, not a faded memory or ethereal entity.

The thought of the ghost of her nameless aunt haunts Maxine in the beginning of the story. The first sentence of the chapter "No Name Woman" is

"you must not tell anyone.‖ Her mother told her this, even though she herself is breaking her husbands rule, which is to not speak of the aunt. Her aunt is the victim of traditional chinese culture, where men really held the power. Her aunt committed suiced with her new born baby after the villagers raided her house. From then on, the family of the Maxine tries to ―forget‖ about the aunt. Though, the family is not entirely successful in wiping her from their minds. "My aunt haunts me-- her ghost drawn to me because now, after fifty years of neglect, I alone devote pages of paper to her, though not origamied into houses and clothes. I do not think she always means me well. I am telling on her, and she was a spite suicide, drowning herself in the drinking water. The Chinese are always very frightened of the drowned one, whose weeping ghost, wet hair hanging and skin bloated, waits silently by the water to pull down a substitute" (Kingston 16). However, in the eyes of the Maxine, her aunt is somewhat of a role model, because though she wasn’t successful in the end, she still fought against fate, and traditional culture. Her aunt protested with committed suicide in the village well, so she in turn became the role model of protesting traditional culture. Maxine uses her writing to avenge her aunt. In Chinese tradition, the ghost who has avenged could finish the reincarnation.

"We could be heroines, swordsmen"( page 18). In chapter 2, the story of Fa Mu Lan is totally different from the traditional Chinese story. The purpose of changing the story is drawing a new image of the woman warrior so that is the same as Maxine imagines it. When Fa Mu Lan studies the fighting skills in

mountains for 15 years ; she finishes studying, constructs an army, kill the greedy officials, and avenges the villagers. The interesting part in this chapter is that Fa Mu Lan becomes the ghost. "It was a wedding. My mother was talking to the hosts: 'Thank you for taking our daughter. Wherever she is, she must be happy now. She will certainly come back if she is alive, and if she is a spirit, you have given her a descent line‖ (Kingston 31). In the Chinese culture, a "ghost wedding" is a way to comfort the relatives with an early death, then organize for them in the form of a ghost marriage.

In chapter 3, more and more ghosts are described in the novel. The environment in which Maxine lived is full of white people. "We were regularly visited by the Mail Ghost, Meter Reader Ghost, Garbage Ghost. Staying off the streets did no good. They came nosing at windows- Social Worker Ghosts; Public Health Nurse Ghosts; Factory Ghosts recruiting workers during the war( they promised free child care, which our mother turned down); two Jesus Ghost who had formerly worked in China." All the information provided by Maxine’s parents about the white people is bad. Because the first generation chinese tries to keep their culture in the small range, isolated with the outer world. However, paradoxically, when Maxine's mother keep telling the stories about the ghost, she tried to instill the idea of traditional Chinese. However, what Maxine's mother did is totally different. Studying in medicine school, catching the ghost in dormitory, reuniting with her husband in U.S, telling the story about the no name aunt to Maxine and encouraging Moon Orchid come

to U.S, even mother's name, Brave Orchid, has the same pronunciation with Fa Mu Lan in Chinese. All these things tells Maxine that her mother is a real woman warrior. When Maxine was hearing the stories about the ghost, she tried to resist the influence of these traditional Chinese culture. Finally, she uses her pen to express her new ideology, which is the common ideology in American Born Chinese.

In my opinion, the final chapter, ―A song from a Barbarian Reed Pipe‖, is the most important chapter of the book. It is all about communication. On one hand, it concerns communication between Kingston and the ―ghosts‖ or Non-Chinese Americans, her parents and the Chinese Americans. On the other hand, the chapter is the communication between the author and the readers, where Kingston reveals the explanations of the myths in which she encoded her feelings in the former part of the book.

The chapter contains four stories. The first story presents Kingston’s childhood experience of asking candy from the druggist who sent the drugs--with bad luck as what her mother thought— to the Hongs by mistake. Being in between her non English speaker parents and the Americans, Kingston was embarrassed by her parents’ inappropriate behaviors according to the American social standards and was upset by the misunderstanding between the two cultures. The second story is about Kingston’s final out-burst of her feelings on Brave Orchid’s role as a traditional style authoritarian parent and the conflict of her identity between Chinese and American. She

questioned the way her mother ―did things‖ and stood up for her American values against her mother’s traditional Chinese values (171). She wanted no more Chinese school but going to a mainstream American college. She fought as a woman warrior to defend her cultural role as an American (201-203). The third story is about Kingston’s bullying of a fellow female Chinese American student in school. Kingston kept torturing the girl who could speak fluently in the Chinese community but became timid and taciturn in the American school environment; she tortures her in order to make her ―talk‖, but in vain (172-181). From my point of view, the story presents Kingston’s self critique on Chinese Americans: the stereotyping and prejudice of Chinese Americans was partly due to the closure of the Chinese American society. The girl represents the Chinese American society as a whole and at the same time, reflects Kingston herself. According to the stereotyping, the Chinese Americans were always silent; they did not speak up for themselves even when bullied. It was a society closed to the outside world. Kingston’s parents did not speak English. They listen to Chinese Operas, speak loud and call Non- Chinese American ―ghosts‖ (171). Kingston wants to address this issue by making the girl ―talk‖, which she thought could both free the girl and herself.

Ghost is just a carrier, it represented the traditional chinese culture. Maxine finally beat it down. She uses her writing to set a new model in American Born Chinese.

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