The Red Couch: The Woman Warrior Discussion


Maxine Hong Kingston “talks story” to us as she unfolds stories of survival: cultural, physical, and spiritual. Told in modular form, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts is an invocation of what it means to carry story well through intergenerational relationships.  Kingston honors language and body as she presses into the tension of having survived war and migration from China to America.

The first chapter, “No Name Woman” was the one that most resonated with me because of the aunt who drowned in the well. “The Chinese are always very frightened of the drowned one, whose weeping ghost, wet hair hanging and skin bloated, waits silently by the water to pull down a substitute” (p 16). This story is reminiscent of La Llorona who in Mexican folklore drowned her children and herself. She wanders the water looking and mourning them. Here, we begin with a ghost. From the first line of the memoir, we are told of this ghost who lingers throughout the text. When the narrator comes to America, she is further haunted by “ghosts.” Yet, when the idea of returning to China becomes possible, Kingston writes, “I did not want to go where the ghosts took shapes nothing like our own” (p 99).

In chapter three, “Shaman” Kingston tells us of her mother, a doctor, a “Lady Scholar” whose name we find is Brave Orchid (p 71). With determination and loyalty, Brave Orchid not only memorizes her texts she also endures a “Sitting Ghost” (p 70). Later, when she recants the story to the women in her dormitory at Keung School, the women become engrossed and empowered from her story of nearly defeating the Sitting Ghost. We learn of this duality between the great winds and the human body. With her skills, she opens a hospital in the mountains during the war. Here we begin to see the motif of doors, reminiscent of the novel, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. Similarly, every door that appears in The Woman Warrior is an exit to another world which leads west.

The Woman Warrior is a “responsibility for time, responsibility for intervening oceans” (108). There are so many motifs that I can reflect on in this post. It would take me many sheets of paper to truly pull everything this memoir entails. I am engrossed by storytelling and survival as much as I am engrossed in the swordswoman in the chapter, “White Tigers,” where “Kuan Kung, the god of war and literature [rode] before [her]” (38). The honor of ancestors makes this memoir one that transcends time and place.

Discussion Questions:

  1. There is a recurring motif of pigs that I found interesting. What does this mean to you?
  2. When she states, “I learned to make my mind large, as universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes” (29), do you feel that there was room for paradoxes in the novel? Where and how?
  3. There is a constant theme of language, language barriers, and what is normal and not. On pg. 87 when she writes about her “waking life” and “push[ing] deformed into her dreams,” how does this resonate with you?
  4. The memoir ends with story and song. Do you find this important and why?

We’ll be taking the month of December “off” for the holidays but look for our 2019 book selections! As always, we’d love for you to join the discussion over in our Facebook group. Thank you for reading along with us this year!

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