Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“On Discovery,” like many other Kingston stories, utilizes the style of “talk-story,” the Chinese phrase for storytelling. Based on the oral tradition of passing on both family history and Chinese legend to younger generations, talk-story, as developed by Kingston, becomes a complex fusion of many genres—part myth, part history, part memory—all of which combine to form a search for identity, both personal and racial.

In Western culture, the storyteller, revered as the memory and voice of the tribe, recounts tales of bravery, tales that enable the tribe to preserve and perpetuate itself. This important function is, in a patriarchal society, almost exclusively a male role. In Kingston’s immigrant Cantonese society, it is the women who talk-story while the men, isolated by separation from family and culture and oppressed by New World masters who often forbade them to talk, lose their voices and eventually descend into an eerie silence. Kingston encapsules this point masterfully in Tang Ao’s only directly recorded speech when he asks, “What are you doing?” and the old woman replies, “Sewing your lips together.” She is joking, of course, but her answer emphasizes the power and importance of words. To be totally silent is to be truly powerless.

Kingston also underscores the silence of the sojourner heroes by both the choice of title and the structure of China Men, the autobiographical novel in which “On...

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Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

The Gold Mountain and the Chinese in America
Though "On Discovery" takes place in the timeless domain of legends and myths, it...

(The entire section is 1228 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

The setting of ''On Discovery'' is the Land of Women, which is, the narrator suggests, North America. The Land of Women...

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Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1980s: Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, is murdered in Detroit in 1982 by two unemployed white men who, enraged over the influx of...

(The entire section is 276 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Kingston has said that "On Discovery" is the introduction to an epic novel. What connections do you see between "On Discovery" and the other...

(The entire section is 245 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

Maxine Hong Kingston Reading "The Woman Warrior," "China Men," was released as an audiocassette in 1987 by American Audio Prose...

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What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1976), by Maxine Hong Kingston. In her first book, considered a companion book...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Buckmaster, Henrietta. "China Men Portrayed with Magic," in The Christian Science Monitor, August 11,1980, p....

(The entire section is 581 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Crow, Charles L. Maxine Hong Kingston. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 2004.

Huntley, E. D. Maxine Hong Kingston: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001.

Janette, Michele. “The Angle We’re Joined At: A Conversation with Maxine Hong Kingston.” Transition, no. 71 (1996): 142-157.

Lee, Ken-fang. “Cultural Translation and the Exorcist: A Reading of Kingston’s and Tan’s Ghost Stories.” MELUS 29 (Summer, 2004): 105-127.

Royal, Derek Parker. “Literary Genre as Ethnic Resistance in Maxine Hong Kingston’s...

(The entire section is 128 words.)