The Woman Warrior written by Maxine Hong Kingston is a book of memoirs; an auto biography of Kingston’s life amongst ghost. However, although this book is an autobiography it is not solely written from one narrative point of view. In her book of memoirs, Kingston realizes that a first-person singular narrative point of view provides with too many limitations, by which she can tell her story. Thus due to these limitations Kingston relates her memoirs from multiple viewpoints in order to effectively portray her past to her readers.
Most of the book is told in the first-person; however, the first time the reader observes the first-person narrator, or Kingston, tell about her own life is in chapter five. Technique in Fiction warns that a first-person narrative “results in some garrulous, arch, and irrelevant narrators” with the “great temptation for self-indulgence” (Macauley, Lanning 139). Despite this, it does not apply for Kingston because her book is memoirs, an autobiography. Instead as to the nature of Kingston’s story, she reaps the benefits of the first-person singular point of view. The reader establishes “an intimacy and involvement” that gives the impression of the narrator as “being direct, candid, and trustworthy” (Macauley, Lanning 139). These qualities are embodied in Kingston’s memoirs; for example “Not everybody thinks I’m nothing. I am not going to be a slave or a wife. Even if I am stupid and talk funny and get sick, I won’t let you turn me into a slave or a wife. I’m getting out of here.” (201). This quote comes from a rant that Kingston blurts out at the dinner table towards her mother. With the use of the particular point of view the reader is engaged and is able to feel the anguish and anger felt by Kingston, not only towards her mother but also to the invisible world of Chinese customs as well.
There areas within the book in which Kingston herself relatively disappears, and she uses the point of view, third-person singular. The most prominent example is the fourth chapter which is told entirely in third-person. Keeping the first-person singular view proves too limiting as Kingston herself was not present during climatic confrontation in this chapter. Also the characters present limited in their knowledge and thus are oblivious. The third-person vantage point allows “the author to show…traits” or “very common thing about ourselves of which we are not aware.” (Macauley, Lanning 141). Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid on their way to see Moon Orchid’s husband concoct plans, almost comical, of what to do when they arrive; Brave Orchids says “Scare him. Walk right into his house with your suitcases and boxes. Move right into the bedroom. Throw her stuff out of the drawers and put yours in. Say ‘I am first wife, and she is our servant.’ ” (126). The third-person narrative view allows the reader to see how oblivious the two women are to this outrageous proposal, that in the readers’ mind can only end in an epic disaster.
Kingston struggles throughout her book to discover and separate the truth from what is just her imagination; however it is within this imagination that another point of view emerges, a shape-shifter that goes through a metamorphosis. Technique in Fiction presents the idea of “Mr. Alpha” who is “omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent” (Macauley, Lanning 142). Obviously Kingston, a human being cannot be this, she is limited to what she knows. However in Kingston’s imagination, her mind and her own fantasies, she embodies some of the traits and qualities of Mr. Alpha. As Mr. Alpha the author is “versatile, flexible, and privileged” and thus has a “variety of tactics.”
One of those tactics is that Mr. Alpha “can borrow and use any one of several points of view as it suits his purpose” (Macauley, Lanning 143). In her own world and fantasies Kingston does just this. Since her mother will not tell anymore about the “No Name Warrior” Kingston’s formulates scenarios to suggest how and why her ghost aunt got pregnant. In vivid detail she explains how “When she closed her fingers as if she were making pair of shadow geese bite, the string twisted together catching the little hairs. Then she pulls the thread away from her skin, ripping the hairs out neatly, her eyes watering from the needles of pain” (9). Here her point of view transforms into third-person singular, while it travels to her mother’s village in China to watch how her aunt meticulously threads her eyebrows. In a grander example Kingston takes on the first-person singular point of view of a female avenger, who is from one of her mother’s talk-stories and fabricates a whole life for herself.
Kingston chooses to use multiple viewpoints in which to tell her memoirs relative to the situation and needs at hand. She uses first-person singular to tell about her own experiences; while she reverts to third-person singular in places where first-person singular will give her too many limitations. And finally within the corridors of her own mind she exhibits qualities of “The All-Knowing Mr. Alpha” (Macauley, Lanning 142). Combined all these vantage points are use to effectively deliver her memoirs of a girlhood among ghost.
Characterizing of Major Characters in The Woman Warrior
In Kingston’s autobiography, The Woman Warrior, the majority of its characters are female-dominated. Throughout the whole book few males roles are introduced, and those that are mentioned, are briefly characterized if at all. However, Kingston richly characterizes many of the minor and major female roles that are present in her memoirs. The two of the most extensively characterized characters are none other than Brave Orchid, Kingston’s mother, and Kingston herself. Kingston succeeds in unraveling two intricate personalities, which continue to development as the story goes on.
Kingston is the one character the readers watch from a young child to a mature adult, and through Kinston’s writing her personality at different times in her life comes out as well. Technique in Fiction states that the “finest accomplishment” is the “character who is gradually revealed or ‘unrolled’ but who also changes” throughout the novel (Macauley, Lanning 92). Kingston in her autobiography is an embodiment of this accomplishment. When we first come into contact with Kingston she is a shy, voiceless girl who is constantly haunted by her mother’s talk-stories. After hearing a story about a defective infant Kingston “woke at night… sometimes heard an infant’s grunting and weeping coming from the bathroom” (86). However as Kingston begins to talk at the “American school” and tries to fit in as much as possible in the American society, she develops anger and becomes a rebellious teenager (167). There are two scenic episodes in which the reader can see quite clearly how much that voiceless girl has changed.
The first of which is when Kingston tortures the “sissy-girl” at her school (175). Alone in a bathroom Kingston squeezed and pinched her cheek, “pulled the hair at her temples, pulled the tear out of her eyes” all in efforts to get her to talk (178). This scene emphasizes and illustrates the anger Kingston was building up inside. This anger led to another, almost climatic scene of Kingston lashing out at her mother. Out of nowhere Kingston’s “throat burst open” screaming “I’m going away. I’m going away anyway. I am Do you hear me?” (201). In both these scenes the “Speech” and Kingston’s “’Behavior Towards Others” are used as “conventional way of characterization” (Macauley, Lanning 93). Lastly, towards the end of the book Kingston shows a mature side of her, one that has found a voice in writing and is able to reflect on her past. Kingston writes “here is a story my mother told me, not when I was young, but recently, when I told her I also am a story-talker. The beginning is hers, the ending, mine.” (206). In this quotation it is evident to the reader that Kingston has changed and is now taking pride in also being story-talker.
It is unusual that an autobiography written by Kingston is so dominated by her mother’s talk-stories and experiences; although this provides us with another complex character that evolves during the course of the book. The readers see Brave Orchid’s personality mostly through the eyes of Kingston. Thus is would make sense that as Kingston’s herself changes, the reader will see Brave Orchid in a new light. Kingston presents her mother as a brave, strong and hard woman, the living example of a woman warrior. However, as shown through Brave Orchid’s attitude, she can be cruel and unaffectionate. Brave Orchid loathes that “during the war…many people gave older girls away for free” and “here I was in the United States paying two hundred dollar for you” (83). However when Kingston is an adult and visits her mother, we are shocked to see a whole different women. Brave Orchid sit by Kingston’s bed and says “how can I bear to have you leave me again?” (100). Kinston observes that her mother’s “varicose veins stood out” on her legs. This new painted picture of Brave Orchids details a weak, vulnerable and lonely woman not seen in the rest of the book. While leaving she calls Kingston “Little Dog” a “name to fool the gods” (109). This shows the love Brave Orchid truly has for her “first daughter” (109).
The reader watches the personalities and characters of Kingston and her mother grow and change, as they are gradually shown to the reader. Kinston truly “produces a many-sided character whom we get to know encounter after encounter” who is emerging, “being changed by the events of life” (Macauley, Lanning 92). These characters are “more than a great technical feat” but also “the center of the art” in a novel” (Macauley, Lanning 92).