In the last section of Maxine Hong Kingston’s autobiographical book The Woman Warrior, Kingston reveals her troubles with English. The chapter starts with Kingston detailing her problems in school. She says she became silent when she went to kindergarten and had to speak English. Her silence made her feel bad about herself. She describes her silence as a “dumbness” and a “shame.”
The audible silence leads to another revelation: Kingston covered up her school paintings. She says she painted “layers of black over houses and flowers and suns.” It’s as if she’s connecting her audible silence to her visual silence. If she’s not going to say anything, she won’t represent anything, either.
In this section, Kingston also talks about her experiences at Chinese school, which she attends after American school. The two schools set up a contrast. At the American school, she is, of course, quiet. At the Chinese school, she puts her voice to use. She doesn’t feel like she has to be silent.
Finally, think about how Kingston reveals some unpleasant aspects about herself in this chapter. Her behavior towards “the quiet girl” demonstrates that she could behave cruelly and like a bully. Maybe Kingston’s conduct can be understood as partly a result of her own frustrations with herself. Regardless, the scene in the bathroom reveals that Kingston had a mean streak.