LIT 4386 British and American Literature
Kingston, "No Name Woman" (2239)
Post #12 Group B
- To examine Kingston's use of biography
- To discuss the importance of No Name woman's story in relation to
Carol Christ's theory
Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior is an autobiographical story of her growing up the daughter of
Chinese immigrants in Stockton California. She combines autobiography and fiction to balance memories
of a Chinese American childhood with fantasies about Chinese history and culture. Of the autobiography she says:
reporting is the vengeance and "I have many words." As you read, keep in mind some of the other autobiographical
pieces we have read, including those by Woolf, Angelou, Marshall, and Rich (as well as earlier writings by Rowlandson,
Burney, and Jacobs).
Notes and Discussion Questions:
1. "No Name Woman" (2239)
This is a passionate story of a young girl's struggle for identity. She describes her life among
ghosts -- both caucasian Americans she went to school with and the Chinese legends and ghosts: p. 5
"Those of us in the first American generations have had to figure out how the
invisible world the emigrants built around our childhoods fits in solid America."
What do "ghosts" represent for the young girl?
Like Jane Eyre , this is a story about a girl's coming of age, about that formative period
of life when consciousness of who you are becomes painful. About sexual maturity. (Compare also representations
in Yamamoto's "Seventeen Syllables."
The book as a whole is primarily about women: the home, the workplace, the family relationships, the stories. Men
rarely enter into the action of the story, although their oppressive presence is felt throughout.(Again, like
Kingston's story depicts the harsh misogyny of a
strict patriarchal culture through the defamiliarizing lens
of another culture. It is a context in which "Girls are maggots in the rice"; and
"It is more profitable to raise geese than to raise daughters." p. 43.
As biography it stands in marked contrast to other standard, linear types of biography, like Jane Eyre
or I know why the Caged Bird Sings, which tell the stories of childhood straight
through to entry into adulthood. How is Kingston's storytelling different? Is it effective?
This autobiography is very literary (Like Woolf of "22 Hyde Park Gate"?) Kingston uses stories to tell her story.
Examine the implicit assumption in her story: the stories and characters of our youth shape our
identity unconsciously, limiting or extending our sense of the possibilities for who we are. (Like Dunbar for Marshall?)
Of "No-name woman", she writes: "Whenever she [her mother] had to warn
us about life, my mother told stories that ran like this one, a story to grow up on" (2240).
2. Women's Stories: using their stories to tell her story
From Carol Christ: Diving Deep and Surfacing
"Women's stories have not been told. And without stories there is no articulation
of experience. Without stories a woman is lost when she comes to make the
important decisions of her life. She does not learn to value her struggles,
to celebrate her strengths, to comprehend her pain. Without stories she cannot
understand herself. Without stories she is alienated from those deeper experiences
of self and world that have been called spiritual or religious. She is closed in silence" (1).
What do you think she means by this? To what extent is this useful or helpful for understanding Kingston?
To what extent is this useful or helpful for understanding the importance of this class?
3. Collaborative and Discussion
The purpose of today's class is to examine the story of "No Name Woman."
Consider "No Name Woman" in light of Carol Christ's comments above.
What does the narrator know about "No Name Woman"? Perhaps more importantly, what doesn't the narrator
know about her? What stories does the narrator invent about her? Why?
How does the story of "No Name Woman" affect the narrator?
How does the narrator relate to her?
What is the mportance of ancestors? p. 2247
Why does Kingston create alternative stories for her aunt? How do they differ?
Why are these different stories important? What purposes do they serve?
Note the way the narrator hears her story as a warning, and she rewrites it several
ways: "Unless I see her life branching into mine, she gives me no ancestral help" (2242).