A part of The Woman Warrior, by Maxine Hong Kingston, a memoir where Maxine tries to discover herself, her roots, and reconcile with her identity of being Chinese-American

Narrated by the author’s mother about her husband’s sister (the author’s aunt) - Then the author reimagines the tale of her aunt

talk-story - “Whenever she had to warn us about life, my mother told stories that ran like this one, a story to grow up on”; didactic tales that were like folk tales

inter­weaves oral and literary traditions; convey multiple narratives and viewpoints, historiographic metafiction mixes fact and fiction; revisionist, retelling of a story Kingston uses the talk-story as a way to retell her mother’s talk-stories

No Name Woman’s story

Setting - Chinese village, 1924; many men have gone to the US (“gold mountain”) to earn and send back money

Kingston’s aunt gave birth to an illegitimate child → the village mob ransacked the family’s house, killed all their livestock, destroyed all the crops No Name Woman went to the pigsty to give birth Brave Orchid found the NNW and her baby dead in the well; NNW had killed herself, suicide.

It is meant to be a cautionary tale to deter premarital sex using the fear of humiliation, ostracism, and death

”Now that you’ve started to menstruate, what happened to her could happen to you. Don’t humiliate us… The villagers are watchful”

The Conflict

Author struggles to understand how the aunt’s history will help her conduct herself properly; how to integrate such talk-stories in her life; American sensibilities but Chinese context

Maxine’s interpretation

contends that her aunt’s sexual partner “was not a stranger because the village housed no strangers.” Says that the man could have and most probably would have been part of the village mob posits that the aunt was r@ped

Another interpretation is that the aunt is a person with her own desires and dreams; not just a victim “She dreamed of a lover for the fifteen days of New Year’s… . And sure enough she cursed the year, the family, the village, and herself”.”


Her American sensibilities do not reconcile with the Chinese context Kingston rewrites the story from her own perspective (American-influenced) She tries to guess the reasons for her aunt’s actions With her rewriting of the talk-story, she reconciles her Chinese past and her American present

A continuity is established; Brave Orchid represents cultural traditions of China, and Maxine represents the identity of a first-generation Chinese American

Starts with “You must not tell anyone”. This signifies voicelessness and loss of identity as a woman. Kingston feels that revealing the story not only puts her at odds with her community, but also fears that her aunt will haunt her for revealing her story to the world.


Brave Orchid

the author’s mother

No Name Woman

the author’s aunt who died and was erased


On how the village mob reacted to the aunt being pregnant:

“The village had also been counting. On the night the baby was to be born the villagers raided our house"

"The villagers broke in the front and the back doors at the same time, even though we had not locked the doors against them. Their knives dripped with the blood of our animals. They smeared blood on the doors and walls. One woman swung a chicken, whose throat she had slit, splattering blood in red arcs about her."

"When they left, they took sugar and oranges to bless themselves. They cut pieces from the dead animals. Some of them took bowls that were not broken and clothes that were not torn"

"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”

My aunt could not have been the lone romantic who gave up everything for sex.

Women in the old China did not choose. Some man had commanded her to lie with him and be his secret evil. I wonder whether he masked himself when he joined the raid on her family.

The other man was not, after all, much different from her husband. They both gave orders: she followed. “If you tell your family, I’ll beat you. I’ll kill you. Be here again next week.”

In a commensal tradition, where food is precious, the powerful older people made wrongdoers eat alone. Instead of letting them start separate new lives like the Japanese, who could become samurais and geishas, the Chinese family, faces averted but eyes glowering sideways, hung on to the offenders and fed them leftovers. My aunt must have lived in the same house as my parents and eaten at an outcast table.

Once my aunt found a freckle on her chin, at a spot that the almanac said predestined her for unhappiness. She dug it out with a hot needle and washed the wound with peroxide

Adultery, perhaps only a mistake during good times, became a crime when the village needed food.

But there is more to this silence: they want me to participate in her punishment. And I have.

The real punishment was not the raid swiftly inflicted by the villagers, but the family’s deliberately forgetting her

”Now that you’ve started to menstruate, what happened to her could happen to you. Don’t humiliate us… The villagers are watchful”