Ghosts can be found in every chapter of The Woman Warrior. They permeate all parts of the book. These ghosts have many different meanings and take many different forms. They can appear as malevolent spirits, such as the ‘Sitting Ghost’ that Brave Orchid encounters in her years at the To Keung School of Midwifery. Kingston writes that “This Sitting Ghost has many wide black mouths. It is dangerous. It is real” (74). Yet there are other ghosts that seem to do no harm, that just exist, such as “Taxi Ghosts, Bus Ghosts, Police Ghosts, Fire Ghosts. Meter Reader Ghosts, Tree Trimming Ghosts, Five-and-Dime Ghosts” (97). Kingston says that “America has been full of machines and ghosts…” (96). These ghosts that are mentioned so many times have both a literal and a metaphorical meaning throughout the story. They represent the confusion Kingston feels about her life, never knowing if the stories that her mother tells her are reality or fiction. She cannot tell what parts of her past are true memories or a ‘ghost’ of a memory, a fiction she created. The ghosts also literally represent people that surround them in their daily lives. To Brave Orchid and her children, the ghosts are the people in America who are not Chinese, who live a life filled with traditions and culture they do not understand. But China is also a ghost story to Kingston. When her mother talks to her about returning to China, Kingston thinks “I am to return to China where I have never been” (76). Though her mother “funnelled China into their ears,” China is a foreign land she has never been to, another story in which she does not know which parts are true and which are fantasy. Though the ghosts change through the perspective of different characters, they tend to represent things that are unknown.
In the chapter “At the Western Palace,” Brave Orchid brings her sister, Moon Orchid, to the United States to live with her family. Moon Orchid’s husband has remarried an American woman. Brave Orchid believes that her sister should go to her husband and retake what is rightfully hers. When the estranged husband first sees Moon Orchid and Brave Orchid, he refers to them as “grandmothers” and thinks that “these women had such awful faces” (152). His inability to recognize them separates them from himself. There is a divide between the two worlds these different characters inhabit and that turns them all into ghosts to each other. Kingston writes “Her husband looked like one of the ghosts passing the car windows, and she must look like a ghost from China. They had indeed entered the land of ghosts, and they had become ghosts” (153). America is the land of ghosts, filled with the ‘white ghosts’ that are repeatedly mentioned by both the narrator and her mother. Moon Orchid’s husband has been here so long, and becomes so ingrained in the American way of life that he has become synonymous with these ‘white ghosts.’ China has now become a ghost land to him, similar to how it is for the narrator, and so he sees these two old women as ghosts from a life that once belonged to him but no longer does. This is extremely powerful due to the fact that Brave Orchid has been surrounded by ghosts her whole life, and has worked hard to defeat many of them. She now lives her life in a land full of ghosts that she must deal with daily. Her move to this new place and her inability to accept american customs has led to her becoming a ghost in all the places she has known. She is a ghost floating between worlds, with no real home. She has become something that she learned about, and worked against, her whole life.
- What is the importance of having both Moon Orchid and her husband seen as ghosts in “At the Western Palace?”
- How do the many ghosts throughout the story affect the lives of the narrator and her relatives?