The American Spinster Review of Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

“Perhaps women were once so dangerous they had to have their feet bound.”

The Woman Warrior is a spellbinding mixture of autobiography, family history, and girlhood fantasies. From the opening section, “No Name Woman,” the story of Kingston’s disowned aunt, to tales of her mother’s time as a village doctor in “Shaman,” Kingston’s book reads like a whispered confession.

As a daughter in a family of Chinese immigrants, Kingston struggles with the conflicting messages her mother gives. Daughters are worthless, slaves, maggots. And yet, her mother also told Kingston and her sisters stories of warrior women, like Fa Mulan. Stories of courageous women who avenged their families and fought better than men.

As a child caught between two cultures, Kingston struggles with her inability to speak for herself and her deep desire to be seen and understood. She knows that, although supposedly considered a worthless girl, she is also supposed to be a warrior and save her people. Who who people are, however, was a mystery to her.

Why It’s a Spinsterly Read

Kingston writes that she and her sisters made up their minds to learn science and mathematics, to never marry or be dependent on a husband, who might someday abandon them. Having grown up with stories of how hopeless their lives would be as girls if the family moved back to China, as well as stories of their mother’s independence as a doctor before she immigrated, they learn that they have to be able to care for themselves if they want to survive.

To avoid the arranged marriage her parents try to set up, she cooks poorly and breaks dishes to prove that she’s not good wife material.

“Even now, unless I’m happy, I burn the food when I cook. I do not feed people. I let the dirty dishes rot. I eat at other people’s tables but won’t invite them to mine, where the dishes are rotting.”

Even when the possibility of marrying is acceptable, she still determines that she won’t let herself be a burden or an excuse.

“No husband of mine will say, ‘I could have been a drummer, but I had to think about the wife and kids. You know how it is.’ Nobody supports me at the expense of his own adventure.”

Kingston’s Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts is an engaging, if unusual, read. Many women will be able to relate to it, regardless of their racial or socioeconomic upbringing. It taps into something fundamentally American, fundamentally female.

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