Female Identity in Literature
16 February 2013
The Significance of Secondary Characters in Maxine Kingston’s the Woman Warrior
In her memoir the Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston’s use of minor characters adds depth to the memoir by further emphasizing Kingston’s themes of voice and identity. These characters momentarily appear in the text or do not appear at all, but they symbolize both negative and positive traits that exist within Kingston. Raised in America but surrounded by Chinese culture, young Kingston struggles whether to define herself as American or Chinese and her absence of identity leads her into questioning her self-worth. With her parents always threatening to sell her when they return to China, even though the threats are said jokingly, young Kingston believes she is just another worthless girl. Her mother’s constant insults also do nothing to uplift her self-esteem, instead hinder her development of self-identity. Kingston lacks voice because the sexist nature of Chinese culture which actively suppresses the voices of young women. Kingston even states when she was a newborn her mother cut her tongue and “sliced up the frenulum” which is symbolic of Chinese culture stifling the voices of young women. Eventually young Kingston finds her voice and identity by using the minor characters as a template for behavior by mimicking their actions and adopting a similar mindset. By idolizing the great women warriors in Chinese stories such as Fa Mulan and Ts'ai Yen, Kingston embraces her identity as a Chinese American and finds her voice. Kingston also recognizes the importance of voice through her interactions with the silent girl who symbolizes the silent girl that exists within Kingston. The minor characters in Kingston’s memoir not only assist Kingston on her enlightening journey of self-discovery but they are also symbolic to the themes of voice and identity in the memoir.
In the memoir White Tigers, Kingston tells the revised anecdotal story...