Maxine Hong Kingston’s book rejects the idea of a male norm of thinking and behavior that is stable and unchanging by presenting female identities that are unstable and changing.
Think about the first woman depicted in the book—Kingston’s aunt. In this chapter, Kingston challenges the supposed stability of her aunt’s history. She’s not content with letting it be a “crime.” She destabilizes the sexist trope by recasting her aunt’s ordeal as rape. Now, the crime is not on the aunt but the man who hypothetically assaulted her. Additionally, Kingston transforms the aunt from an outcast and a figure of shame to an honorable, devoted mom.
The instability and mutation continues in the second text with the story of Fa Mu Lan, who changes from a seven-year-old girl to a self-reliant warrior. She also identifies with an array of ever-changing things. She compares her growing mind to the universe. She likens her movement to “trees in the wind.” As with Kingston’s aunt, Fa Mu Lan is difficult to pigeonhole. Later on, the reader learns that she can pass as a man and lead an army and still give birth and marry.
Finally, the experiences of Kingston’s mom, Brave Orchid, represents a rejection of thinking and behavior that is stable and unchanging. As a midwife, Brave Orchid confronts constant disarray and mutation. She has to deal with creatures that are half-man and half-ape, ghosts, and the stress of delivering babies in pigsties.