Maxine Hong Kingston - No Name Woman
Maxine Hong Kingston wasborn on October 27, 1940 in Stockton, California. She was the first of six American-born children; her parents, Tom and Ying Lan Hong, had had two children in China before they came to America. Her mother trained as a midwifein To Keung School of Midwifery in Canton. Her father had been brought up a scholar and taught in his village of Sun Woi, near Canton. Tom left China forAmerica in 1924, but finding no work for a poet or calligrapher, he took a jobin a laundry. Tom was swindled out of his share of the laundry, but Ying Lanjoined him in 1939 in New York City, and they then moved to Stockton where Tomhad been offered a job in a gambling house. Maxine was named after a lucky blond gambler who frequented his work.
Kingston's first language was Say Yup, a dialect of Cantonese. She grew up surrounded by othe rimmigrants from her father's village, and the storytelling she heard as a childinfluenced her later writing. By the age of nine, her progress in Englishenabled her to write poems in her new language, and though she was a giftedstoryteller like her mother, she preferred the solitary task of writing. She was an extremely bright student and she won eleven scholarships that allowed her to attend the University of California at Berkeley.
Kingston began as anengineering major, but she soon switched to English literature. She receivedher B.A. degree in 1962 and her teaching certificate in 1965. In 1962,she married Earll Kingston, an actor, and they moved to Hawaii where they bothtaught for the next ten years.
In 1976, while Kingstonwas teaching creative writing at the Mid-Pacific Institute, a private school,she published her first book, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a GirlhoodAmong Ghosts. One reviewer, Michael T. Malloy, described the book ashaving an exotic setting but dealing with the same subjects as mainstreamAmerican feminist literature, specifically the "Me and Mom" genre.Other reviewers were surprised by its fresh subject matter and style, and theysang the praises of this poetic, fierce, delicate, original novel/memoir.Kingston strove for a Chinese rhythm to her voice, a typical Chinese-Americanspeech, and rich imagery; her first book was a great success. In the end of WomanWarrior, her shy girl character finds resolution as she breaks femalesilence and inherits an oral tradition that she carries on as a writtentradition.
Kingston's second book, ChinaMen, published in 1980, was a companion to Warrior Woman andreceived more controversial reviews. The book, steeped in historic detail andset in early California and Hawaii, details the male influences of her life anddescribes the lives of the men in her family who came to America--"GoldMountain. "China Men includes a chronological list ofdiscriminatory laws regarding Chinese immigrants and celebrates the strengthsand achievements of the first Chinese men in America as well as theexploitation and prejudice they faced. Several sinologists complained thatKingston reconstructed myths that are only remotely connected to originalChinese legends and that her pieces don't accurately portray high culture.Kingston responded to this criticism by explaining that she is not trying torepresent Chinese culture, she is simply trying to portray her own experiences.She points to William Carlos Williams as one of the influences of China Men.
In 1987, Kingston publisheda collection of twelve prose selections, Hawaii One Summer. After thesuccess of her first books, she was financially able to give up teaching as anoccupation and continued to write, but she continued to teach on and off as avisiting professor in Hawaii, Michigan, and California. In 1988, TripmasterMonkey: His Fake Book, a picaresque novel set in the San Francisco areaduring the 1960s, was published. The protagonist of this novel, Wittman AhSing, is a fifth-generation Chinese-American, and like many of Kingston'scharacters, he struggles to escape racism as he grows and questions the worldaround him. Reviews of this novel again were mixed, but critics seem to havehad stronger reactions against this book than against China Men.
The Woman Warrior: No Name Woman
- What is the Gold Mountain? What is the origin of this name?
- Why does Kingston's mother tell her the story of her aunt? What message does it send? Why is the aunt a "No Name Woman"?
- Kingston writes: "Those of us in the first American generations have had to figure out how the invisible world the emigrants built around our childhoods fits in solid America" (5). Consider this statement and the title No Name Woman
- What is the status of a woman in the Chinese culture Kingston describes? Defend your answer with examples from the book. Consider the importance of appearance, usefulness, and self-discipline.
- How does Kingston tell the story of her aunt? Why do you suppose she tells it this way?
- What is more important in the Chinese culture Kingston describes the individual or the community? Why might this question be particularly interesting to a woman who grew up in the United States?
- Analyze Kingston's description of space in her description of her aunt. Why does she focus on space?
- Why does Kingston say that she has participated in her aunt's punishment?