To compare Maxine Hong Kingston, the unnamed narrator throughout The Woman Warrior, to her mother, Brave Orchid, think about how each possesses a powerful imagination. In the first section, “No-Name Woman,” Kingston creates different narratives for her aunt. She comes up with events that possibly brought about her pregnancy and her eventual death. Here, Kingston’s imagination counters the sexist, reductive narrative of her family. It serves to give her aunt complexity, agency, and visibility.
Brave Orchid, too, shows off a robust imagination. She tells Kingston captivating stories about ape-men, ghosts, and babies left for dead. In America, she presents Americans as ghosts. There’s “Grocery Ghosts,” the “Mail Ghost,” and “Social Worker Ghosts.” While Kingston’s imagination tends to help the marginalized, her mom’s imagination seems to reinforce a sense of marginalization. Rather than use her imagination to make her daughters feel at home in a new place, she uses it to make them feel scared and uneasy.
However, both Brave Orchid and Kingston can come across as problematic at times. Besides her odious imagination, Brave Orchid can seem sexist and like something of a bully. Her insistence that her sister, Moon Orchid, move to California and confront her husband does not work out well for Moon Orchid. Kingston isn’t perfect either. Her confrontation with “the quiet girl” in the school bathroom reveals that she can be a bully too.
For further similarities and differences between Kingston and her mom, consider their attitudes toward America. Discuss how Brave Orchid continues to view America through the lens of ghosts and how Kingston grows up and develops an integrated approach toward American culture.