Discuss and interpret the subtitle of the book: "Memories of a girlhood among ghosts." Who are the ghosts, and what do they represent?

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vkpteach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main title of this memoir by Maxine Hong Kingston, Woman Warrior, evokes the image of a strong young girl -- like the one in the legend Kingston tells -- who can be both warrior and lover, mother and daughter. The childhood Kingston evokes in her unique memoir is all about being Chinese-American and trying to reconcile all of those roles.

The subtitle, Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, refers to many kinds of ghosts evoked in the book. The ghosts can refer directly to the ancestors that play such a vital role in the spiritual/relgious life of the Chinese. They also refer to the ghost of her mother's past self (back in China)-- the brilliant, tough doctor -- and the way Maxine tries to align that mother with the laundry running, skunk cooking mother of her childhood. Additionally, one can argue that Maxine herself is a ghost -- a girl without a voice -- whose inner life does not match her outer reality. The other ghosts alluded to in the book are the ghosts of all the girls who have had their faces pressed into the ashes by their midwives. The girl tossed in the well. The girl babies not valued enough to be allowed to live. Maxine's sense of herself as a valuable, worthy person is very much challenged by the weight of that enormous cultural heritage of devaluing girls.

Finding the balance among all the things that pull upon her -- her sense of self, her sense of nationality, her position as daughter in a family whose culture does not value daughters, and her role as warrior, writer, woman with something to say -- is at the crux of the memoir, and to find that balance she has to come to terms with all the ghosts.  

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The Woman Warrior

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