Thursday 28 March 2024

Review by Megan Stafford-Adatia of "The Woman Warrior" by Maxine Hong Kingston

In her novel, The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston shares the "talk-story" that has been passed down through generations of Chinese girls, without impairing the culture’s integrity or diminishing the painful history of womanhood that it encapsulates. In this way, Kingston unleashes the matrilineal voices that have been suppressed by society, allowing them to echo their impact on the reader long after The Woman Warrior has finished.

Silence becomes a "punishment" in the semi-autobiographical novel, one that, fortunately for us, Kingston refuses to participate in. No woman is left with their story untold. None are condemned to that historical culture of silence and erasure that Kingston presents as a reality for many Chinese women. The novel takes us through her life, the "talk-story" of her mother, her aunts (both living and dead), and even the myth of Fa Mu Lan herself—a story that has been so often distorted for Western viewers (Disney being perhaps the best-known example). The richness of the culture, the depth of the pains, the peaks of the victories—all are present in this novel along with the endurance of women who are fuelled by an independent spirit, yet concealed in a patriarchal society. Kingston not only awakens them to the light but shines a spotlight on "Warrior Women" who have been preparing to emerge from the shadows of silence for centuries. There are many different stories in this novel, both happy and heartbreaking. Yet with the glorious names of "Brave Orchid" (Kingston’s mother) and "Moon Orchid" (her aunt), Kingston demonstrates that your power does not depend on your history or life story; it depends on your strength in who you are. 

Maxine Hong Kingston refused to be forced into silence. I refuse to allow this book to fall into silence. We must, as Kingston stresses, "talk-story" about this educating piece of magnificence that establishes history in intersectional feminism.

About the reviewer
Megan Stafford-Adatia is currently a second-year undergraduate student studying an English BA at the University of Leicester. She was prompted to write a review in a Creative Writing seminar, and her passion for this novel led her here.

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