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.