How do the major male and female characters fit or deviate from the commonly accepted roles of men and women at that time?

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Maxine's mother gives her mixed messages about what a woman is supposed to be in society. She tells her about Fa Mu Lan, a woman warrior, but then she constantly puts down Maxine's dreams, warning her with stories of No Name Aunt. Chinese traditions require that a woman must serve her husband and their in-laws. She should be his maid and his mistress, putting his needs first and denying herself anything. The husband provides for the family. If a woman breaks these traditions, she must be punished. American Chinese further the hatred of women, as is evidenced by the grandfather of Maxine's cousins who calls the girls "maggots".

Maxine is also troubled by the special treatment her brothers receive.  Their birthdays are big celebrations, and they are given great gifts. The girls receive gifts that will help prepare them for service and there is no party on their birthdays. Maxine wants to be the woman warrior who breaks the traditions.

In trying to please her mother, Maxine is frustrated at every turn. Her American accomplishments, such as getting good grades, only lead her mother to call her "bad girl". Her brothers learn to speak English, but Maxine is discouraged in doing so.

The No Name Aunt's real name is never spoken because she disgraced the family by getting pregnant by someone other than her husband, who had already gone to America. As a result, the aunt kills herself and her baby, knowing they would never be accepted.

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