Tuesday, March 13, 2012


          Reading The Woman Warrior feels like going home to me. Although I have no Chinese blood, I find many things in common between Indonesian and Chinese cultures. One thing that stands out is the world of silence imposed on women.
            With an opening line, “You must not tell anyone…what I am about to tell you” in “No Name Woman”, the author introduces us that women’s lives are surrounded by silence and secrecy. A women getting pregnant without a husband certainly challenges the social and moral values in eastern culture, although the social punishment ranges from mild to severe one, as found in the first section of The Woman Warrior. Very often the society puts so many burdens to a woman committing such a “crime” that the “no name” aunt chose never to reveal the man’s name and decided to kill the baby and herself. In this society, silence can serve as a safety valve for women, because no better choice will be offered both to her and the baby, especially if it is a baby girl.
            Silence is also symbolized by the talk-stories of ghosts. It may be argued that talk-stories represent speech, but the topic of ghosts suggests the invisible world. Since the mother is always the one to tell stories, it is clear that women’s world is the one of invisible.  In the third section, “Shaman”, the mother’s name, Brave Orchid, can be revealed by her friends in the medical school only when she is in danger of losing the battle with the Sitting Ghost.
            A woman even needs to keep her pregnancy into her private side, as what happens to Fa Mu Lan, the woman warrior in the second section, “White Tigers”. Being a woman is her private life, and standing as the general is “her” public life. Nobody should ever find out about her being a woman and later getting pregnant, because women will be executed for “(disguising) themselves as soldiers or students, no matter how bravely they fought or how high they scored on examinations.” (39).
            The fourth section, “At the Western Palace” also suggests the idea of silence. Unfolded through humorous scenes about claiming Moon Orchid’s husband, this section shows how Moon Orchid tends to keep quiet, avoid conflict to save her face rather than walking bravely to see her husband, whom she has not seen for thirty years, and asks for her rights back. That Moon Orchid is not welcomed by her Americanized husband and eventually has to stay in an asylum suggests the burden she has to bear alone for not fitting into the new culture.
            The last section, “A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe”, continues the treatment of silence. The narrator recalls her memory when her mother cuts her tongue so that she “would not be tongue-tied”, so that she could speak languages (164). Her mother is certainly the central figure in the whole stories, one who has modern thoughts and has plans for her children’s future in the ghost country. She wants to leave behind the Chinese value which says “a ready tongue is an evil” (164).
            The world of silence may take several generations to evolve to the world of speech. At some extent, Brave Orchid’s children who have been raised in two cultures are trapped in the middle. They behave like other Americans, but have a hard time making themselves visible and audible at school. We may have to wait until the later generations, those of Brave Orchid’s grandchildren and greatgrandchildren could fit better into the world of speech without necessarily losing their origins.   

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