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Mother - Daughter Relationships in The Woman Warrior Novel

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Sacred Bonds

The bond between mother and daughter is an especially sacred one. However, the bond between Maxine Hong Kingston and her own mother in The Woman Warrior is like that of a roller coaster with happy highs and crashing lows. As Chinese-Americans, there is the question as to what values do they hold onto from their pasts and which ones do they leave behind. Part of me thinks that Maxine’s mother is restless from living in America; for so long she wanted to go back where she was independent rather than doing hard labor. In some ways, the way Maxine views her mother matures just as much as she and the women Maxine imagines. Additionally, the bond she and her mother have shift and change given their different cultures that eventually becomes a reconciliation of their opposing upbringings with the final section of The Woman Warrior—“A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe”.

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From the beginning, Maxine’s mom hopes to protect her daughter, though her methods are a bit unorthodox. Her telling of the forbidden story of her dead aunt, the actual cutting of Maxine’s tongue, and the language Maxine grows up to hearing particularly about women and daughters shape how she views her native land China. In contrast, Maxine and her mother are alike in more ways than one—Brave Orchid does travel and leave her village just as Maxine. The only difference is that Brave Orchid goes back to help the village considering her background knowledge of Western medicine and Eastern practices. Sadly, extended life in America has made Brave Orchid bitter about her stay; referring to American life as Barbarian life and not wanting her children to leave. Her views reflect upon how Maxine’s mother treats Maxine, as she is half-Chinese and half “ghost.” (97) The way the mother and daughter connect and reform their bond are through music and stories.

The way Maxine’s mother is introduced is through the sharing of a forbidden story. Stories morph into a recurring theme where Maxine places herself in the stories to make sense of how she is to communicate with her mom, considering she is the negative image of a daughter and clashes with the ideals of Chinese womanhood. It is through the stories, especially of Fa Mu Lan, where Maxine becomes the woman warrior (20). By doing this, she follows in her mother’s footsteps—arguably a woman warrior in her own right. By the time the final section comes into play, Maxine and the reader are able to correlate and connect the other stories with Brave Orchid’s and Maxine’s lives.

With shared misery about their own lives, sense of femininity and womanhood, and knowledge that both had to venture out into the world, Maxine and her mother are able to grow closer as mother and daughter. It is in their misery and a shared need to fit in their new home when the two come together to share a talk story (206). This talk story helps to bridge the cultural gap between the two while easing the difficulty in communicating. American life is no longer seen as much as a Barbarian lifestyle, but a new way to integrate oneself into Chinese culture, something Maxine states “translated well.” (208, 209)

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