Ghosts and Warriors 

Today I finished reading The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston for my Asian American Literature course. I am not sure what to make of this book. On the one hand, it declares itself a memoir, but interwoven throughout (in some places more than others) are mythological elements that fight against its being classified as a traditional autobiography. Overall, I enjoyed it, but since this reading was for class, I feel I need to understand a bit more.

For example, in the first section, a young Chinese girl, lost in wilderness, is found and taken care of by two mysterious old people who train her to take revenge on the the people who have made her homeless. She is trained as a swordswoman, like the traditional figure of Fa Mu Lan, which apparently is akin to Joan of Arc. (That is, all of this happens if I understood the narrative right.) The elderly couple is described as magical beings who hardly eat, and have powers of prognostication thanks to their crystal ball, which isn't a crystal ball but actually a magic drinking gourd. Contrast those images to the final section where a young Chinese-American girl working at the family Laundry in New York is frustrated by her mother, while she simultaneously struggles to define who she is and how she fits in the Western World.

I am oversimplifying here, but the thoughts that come to my mind are this: as this book shapes itself as an autobiography, should one think of the mythological elements as an ideological framework in which the more realistic elements are grounded? What I mean is this: does the mythology provide a framework that gives readers with no knowldege of Chinese culture a cultural background that is necessary to understand the autobiography? This book reads more like a novel than anything else, and as a novel, I am thinking along the lines of the "magic realism" style associated with Marquez. I think all this might be happening, but then again, I also think this is too technical for my blog, and I should be putting this on the class site instead. Actually, I think I am going to do that right now.

08 October 2004
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