A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

The Woman Warrior: Discussion Questions

Hello everyone! Is anyone besides me still stubbornly working through The Second Sex? I’ve got about 200 pages left, myself. For those of you who also read The Woman Warrior this month, here are some things I was wondering about:

1. What do you see as the main distinctions between what our narrator deems Chinese-feminine and American-feminine? How does she see herself fitting into either of these categories?

2. What did you make of the fact that the word “ghost” is used in the text to describe both dead individuals and foreign groups of people?

3. Moon Orchid is said to go mad at the end of “At the Western Palace” because of the shameful infidelity inflicted by her husband, but insanity is a prevalent theme throughout the text and I think the reasons are more numerous. What do you think those reasons are?

4. About the Woman Warriors: I was reminded of the chapter on Myths in The Second Sex, and Simone de Beauvoir’s assertion that historically, cultures that have exalted women in myth are no more fair to them in real, down-to-earth matters than are cultures whose myths exclude them. What are the differences that our narrator sees in the Woman Warriors of the past and the women in her own family? Are there any qualities that they share? What qualities does our narrator believe make warriors of women?

I know this month is hectic for many of you, and comes at the end of a long succession of hectic months. If you managed to fit this book into your schedule, though, I would love your input! It sure has kept me thinking.

7 responses to “The Woman Warrior: Discussion Questions

  1. amymckie August 28, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    I love the questions. I’m about half way through the book at present and am really enjoying it. I can see why some people were angry at her saying it’s not representative of Chinese culture or life but then, I don’t think it was at all meant to be. The stories she tells are of her own family and her own life and experience, and although they fit into a larger culture she isn’t writing specifically about the culture but about her family.

    1. I think American-feminine is seen as being much more forceful, perhaps. Girls don’t have to be different than boys, they are allowed to do their own thing and follow their own path the same as boys can. Although, after reading the final essay I see that the feminine traits were actually reversed with the American-feminine being more soft and more quiet. I wonder if this is because of stereotypes? Or because parents seem to not fit in so kids don’t know how to act?
    2. I find it interesting how ghost is used for everyone who is other. It seems like it is both a practice in China to refer to things that are unknown and explain differences, but in America more a way to scare the children into obedience. Did anyone else see it this way?
    3. I definitely think she was mad all along and it showed in her actions of following the kids around and repeating what they were saying. I don’t know if she was mad before the plan to bring her over or if the stress of being forced to confront her husband did it? There was definitely an increase in the madness afterwards though.
    4. On the last question you ask that is a really good point. Although there were women warriors in the myths and strong women in the past, women in present day did not have the same opportunities. In a way it really just gave them dreams and hopes and it could almost be seen as their failing that the bird never came to lead them away. Although the women all share the love of family, the desire to protect and care for their family, their hard work and dedication, the women warriors of old were praised while current women were not and were often looked down upon, at least as children.

  2. dangermom August 29, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    I finished it last night! I read this once before, in college–I have no idea what class it was for. I didn’t take any feminist-lit classes; I was a comp lit major and the most modern I got was the Stalinist era. Anyway it was good to read it again–what an interesting book.

    1. I saw American-feminine as very quiet, pretty and girly (remember, the author was born in 1940). American girls had soft voices, wore makeup, attracted boys and went out on dates. The Chinese women in the book came from a tightly-knit village that required them to suppress sexuality. They shouted a lot and were loud, constantly bargaining or scolding. Brave Orchid is always saying that a wife’s job is to nag her husband into working hard! The protagonist can’t get a handle on either one.

    2. Like Amy, I thought it interesting that ‘ghost’ is a term for ‘other’–or ‘anything not like us, alive and Chinese.’ It’s sort of like saying that they’re not real, but they’re powerful at the same time.

    3. I saw Moon Orchid as suffering from the husband situation (that her sister shoves her into) *and* severe culture shock. She isn’t portrayed as a strong person, and though she’s lived alone, she’s had a fairly sheltered life. The sudden difficulties of her new life tip her over. It does seem like the whole book has insanity as a theme–often caused by the clash between Chinese culture, American culture, and the demands placed on women in both. It’s like trying to build a coherent picture out of maybe 3 different puzzles. It’s only women or girls who can’t hold onto their sanity in this book; the men aren’t really prominent anyway, but they don’t seem to fall apart in the same way.

    4. Maybe that’s another element contributing to the insanity. I’m not too sure on this point right now so I’m going to leave it for later, or for the rest of you. 🙂

    • amymckie August 30, 2011 at 2:22 pm

      Love your answers, especially for #1. That is exactly right I think, she had issues both with reconciling them into one identity and actually assuming either. And good point about the culture shock as well in #3.

    • dangermom August 31, 2011 at 5:35 pm

      Also, I have completely failed to even open The Second Sex. 😦 I spent nearly all of July prepping for a big-deal thing and read nothing but cozy British mysteries as a coping mechanism! Now my pile of books is bigger than ever and Simone Beauvoir is just sitting there, looking at me.

  3. Pingback: Review: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston « Amy Reads

  4. onereadleaf October 3, 2011 at 2:08 am

    Still posting late!! But I thought these were great questions; I even answered one in my post…

  5. Emily Jane October 3, 2011 at 3:04 am

    Better late than never, onereadleaf! At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself, ahem, throughout the duration of this project 🙂

    I love everyone’s answers, especially concerning my third question. I take dangermom’s point, especially, that the madness of culture shock, or the clashing of two cultures with such distinct roles for women, seems only to afflict them. I wonder about it a little, but it does make a kind of sense.

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