In The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, Maxine Hong Kingston uses her Aunt, Moon Orchid, and Brave Orchid’s children to compare American and Chinese culture. On page 121, Kingston writes, “How greedy to play with presents in front of the giver. How impolite (“untraditional” in chinses) her children were.” In this statement, Kingston is giving Brave Orchid’s reaction to her children playing with the toys their aunt got them from China. In Chinese culture, giving gifts is a sign of respect and gratitude regardless if it was big or small and expensive or inexpensive. In Chinese culture, you are also not supposed to open gifts and play with gifts in front of the person who gave it to you. This is because by opening it and playing with it right away, it gives the impression that you care about the value of it more than the thought behind the gifts. For this reason, Brave Orchid scolds her children for playing with the gifts right in front of their aunt, even though growing up in America the children were used to opening up presents right away and playing with them. On Holidays and Birthdays in America, children would wake up to presents and would be able to spend their whole day playing with them. By the children playing with their presents, they are just doing what they grew up seeing around them in regard to gift-giving.
Chinese and American culture is also compared when Kingston writes, “No, she would stand, as her sister was probably standing in a line she could not see from here.” (115). Brave orchid is thinking this when her children ask her to sit down after Moon Orchid’s plane has arrived. This is because Brave Orchid remembers how it was when she came over to America. She would have been on a ship for many days than would have to wait at places like Ellis island for her to get processed. For this reason, she is empathic with her sister waiting in this line, so she stands and waits with her. Brave Orchard talks about how her children have no feelings towards it because they did not have to go through it. Her kids never had to wait on a line to see if they made the journey to the United States just to say one wrong thing and be turned away back to China. Kingston writes, “Her American children…” (115) when saying how they wanted to sit while waiting and Brave Orchid wanted to stand, but this was because her children did not know what it meant to stand and wait on a line that will determine your future.
In The Woman Warrior, Kingston makes it seems like Chinese culture is more disciplined than American culture. Kingston writes, “Her American children could not sit very long. They did not understand sitting; they had wandering feet.” (113). In her mother’s eyes, her children should be able to sit in the airport with her and wait for Moon Orchid’s plane to land. Brave Orchard feels like her children are unable to sit and wait because of the American society they grew up in. In this American society, people are unable to sit in one place for an extended period of time and instead just like to wander around and look for something to do to pass the time. This differs from what she is used to from growing up in China, being able to focus on one thing for an extended period of time. Brave Orchard feels that by her children growing up in America and not in China like her, they do not hold the same values as her.
- Do you think that the children were being disrespectful in playing with the gifts while Moon Orchid was still in the room?
- Do you think that the comparison between Chinese and American culture was equal within the book?
Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior. Vintage International, 1976.