Study Help Essay Questions


1. Why does Kingston begin The Woman Warrior with her mother's admonishment, "You must not tell anyone"? What effect does Kingston establish with this ironic statement?

2. The mother-daughter relationship in The Woman Warrior has been described as "bittersweet." To what extent do you agree with this view? How would you describe this relationship?

3. Throughout The Woman Warrior, Kingston explores how her Chinese cultural history can be reconciled with her emerging sense of herself as an American. Is she successful in this endeavor? Support your answer with examples from the text.

4. Discuss the conflict between individualism and community as Kingston presents it in her text. Which characters struggle to define themselves as individuals in a community-oriented society? Are they successful in claiming their personal voices?

5. Define "talk-story." Give an example of a talk-story and discuss how it fits your definition.

6. Discuss the theme of silence in The Woman Warrior. Are any men silenced in the text? If so, who, and why?

7. If No Name Woman had had a baby boy rather than a baby girl, would she have committed suicide by drowning herself and the baby in her family's well? Why, or why not?

8. What are some of the similarities between Kingston and No Name Woman? What are their differences?

9. What role does Fa Mu Lan play in The Woman Warrior? How is this mythological woman warrior integrated into Kingston's narrative?

10. In "White Tigers," what is significant about the rabbit's self-immolating itself for Fa Mu Lan?

11. Discuss the symbolism of Fa Mu Lan's father's carving words of revenge into his daughter's bared back. Why does Fa Mu Lan's father and not her mother carve the words?

12. How does the image of dragons in "White Tigers" relate to Kingston? To Brave Orchid? To these two women's relationship?

13. Brave Orchid downplays the importance of Kingston's academic successes at school. Why?

14. Although The Woman Warrior is a serious treatment of a Chinese-American woman's assimilation into a foreign culture, many episodes in the book are humorous. Discuss one event in the book that you find funny. Why is this event funny? Is there also a serious aspect of the episode you chose? How does Kingston integrate comedy and seriousness into her text?

15. Despite Kingston's use of the term "Memoirs" in her subtitle, many literary critics consider The Woman Warrior an autobiographical novel. Because most readers consider autobiographies to be non-fiction, is "autobiographical novel" an oxymoron? Can autobiographies contain fictitious elements? Why or why not?

16. What is significant about the term "ghost" in Kingston's text?

17. Why does Brave Orchid think that it is important that she tell her personal history to her daughter in "Shaman"?

18. Discuss the role of infanticide — intentionally killing newborn babies — in the book.

19. Why does Kingston fear that her parents want to sell her and her sisters as slaves?

20. Are there any sympathetic males in Kingston's narrative? If so, who are they, and what function do they serve? If no, why not?

21. In the last section of "Shaman," Brave Orchid and Kingston discuss why Kingston never visits her mother. What are some of the reasons that Kingston offers? Does Brave Orchid understand her daughter's reasons? Why is this episode significant in their relationship?

22. What is meant by the phrase "Little Dog"?

23. Discuss Brave Orchid's perceptions of time and China in "Shaman" and "At the Western Palace."

24. Compare Brave Orchid and her sister Moon Orchid.

25. Are Kingston and Moon Orchid at all alike? If so, how?

26. Discuss Moon Orchid's estranged husband in terms of his American-ness. How does he fit Brave Orchid's definition of "ghost"?

27. Moon Orchid's stay with Brave Orchid and her family exposes ever-present misunderstandings between Brave Orchid and her children, and Moon Orchid and her nieces and nephews. Are these misunderstandings due to cultural or generational differences, or both?

28. Throughout The Woman Warrior, Kingston stresses how she wants to be "American-normal." What does this term mean? What qualities make a person "American-normal"?

29. In "At the Western Palace," Brave Orchid comments, "The difference between mad people and sane people . . . is that sane people have variety when they talk-story. Mad people have only one story that they talk over and over." Discuss this quote in terms of Moon Orchid's story, especially the time she spends in the insane asylum with the many pregnant women.

30. Compare Ts'ai Yen's song of lament at the end of "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe" to Brave Orchid's many talk-stories. Do the lamentation and the talk-stories serve similar purposes for the two women?

31. In "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe," Kingston describes her childhood cruelty to a silent Chinese girl at school. Why does she consider this an important episode to present to readers?

32. Discuss the symbolism of Brave Orchid's telling Kingston that she cut her frenum.

33. How do Kingston's experiences in both the American school and the Chinese school emphasize language's power to create a personal identity?

34. What is the significance of the Chinese boy who begins visiting Kingston at the family laundry? Why does her parents' finding pornography in the boy's possession increase Kingston's anger at her mother?

35. In "Cultural Mis-Reading by American Reviewers," an essay published in Asian and Western Writers in Dialogue: New Cultural Identities (1982), Kingston criticizes those critics who find her work exotic and foreign. She states, "The Woman Warrior is an American book. . . . Yet many reviewers do not see the American-ness of it, nor the fact of my own American-ness." What are some of the American elements in this work? Do you agree with Kingston's position?

36. To what degree does the lack of a chronological order in The Woman Warrior help construct a more interesting and engaging narrative? Does this non-chronological plot detract from gaining a better understanding of Kingston's memoir? Why or why not?

37. Compare The Woman Warrior with other literary texts written by women of color. What similarities does it share with works such as Beloved, The Color Purple, and The Joy Luck Club? What are some major differences?

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