How does Kingston characterize her mother in The Woman Warrior, and how does this characterization affect the meaning of the work as a whole?

Maxine Hong Kingston characterizes her mother in The Woman Warrior as strict, strong, independent, and problematic. This characterization affects the meaning of the work as a whole by it linking her mom to the other multifaceted women and girls that are depicted in the book.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Maxine Hong Kingston characterizes her mom as strong, somewhat problematic, and independent in The Woman Warrior. She is a complicated character with multiple dimensions. In the first section, “No Name Woman,” Kingston’s mom, Brave Orchid, demonstrates independence. She tells Kingston about her aunt even though Kingston’s dad would disapprove. By going against the wishes of her husband, Kingston’s mom indicates that she can think for herself and will act in a way that she feels is best.

However, the point of the story, to warn Kingston about the potential consequences of sex within their culture, might strike some as problematic. One could claim that telling the story perpetuates sexist norms, which might lead some to conclude that Brave Orchid’s character contains sexist elements. Then again, it’s possible to claim that Kingston’s mom tells her daughter the story so that she’s aware of how harsh and unforgiving reality can sometimes be. It’s not unreasonable to argue that Brave Orchid is just being pointedly honest.

In the “Shaman” section, Kingston’s mom tells her daughter stories about her past in China. These tales reinforce her strength and independence. Her midwife profession forces her to face precarious situations. Brave Orchid has to go out at night when “she and bandits were the only human beings out.” To protect herself, she trains a dog and carries a club. In a sense, Kingston’s mom figures out how to survive on her own.

To speak to how this complex characterization affects the meaning of the work as whole, consider how the intricate portrait of Brave Orchid mirrors the multifaceted presentations of the other women and girls in the book, like the aunt, Fa Mu Lan, and Kingston herself. In Kingston’s book, women and girls contain an array elements and traits. It’s difficult to reduce their meaning to one tidy takeaway.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial