In the story of the “No Name Woman,” the woman whom Maxine’s mother does not name is the girl’s aunt. This No Name Aunt endured sexual abuse and physical abuse in her home village in China. In her husband’s absence, she was sexually assaulted and impregnated by another man. When she bore his child, the villagers turned against her. Their ostracism, criticism, and scorn became violent, and they attacked her in her home. Distraught and seeing nowhere to turn, the woman took her own life and that of her child by drowning.
The young Maxine reacts to this story with horror, unable to regard it as a cautionary tale about male aggression and female chastity. Instead, Maxine takes to heart other stories that her mother, Brave Orchid, shares about the legendary woman warrior, Fa Mu Lan.
In the story “White Tiger,” Kingston elaborates on a fantasy world in which this fierce female hero carves her own niche. Not content to follow the traditional roles of wife and mother, she rejects subservience both to individual men and to the entire patriarchal structure. As a woman who fights for justice, however, she adopts a male disguise so she can travel unmolested, but she also appropriates traditional male weaponry and methods, becoming a “swordsman” who strikes fear in her opponents. Maxine’s conception of empowerment for women, paradoxically, requires at least partial male embodiment.