The Woman Warrior


Since its publication in 1976, The Woman Warrior has maintained a "vexed reception history that both attests to its popularity and questions it." [85] Much of the debate concerns issues dealing with "autobiographical accuracy, cultural authenticity, and ethnic representativeness," [86] while the critical center of the battle is whether or not Kingston offers a faithful representation of Chinese culture and of Chinese-Americans.[87]

Reviewer Michael T. Malloy thought the book to have an exotic setting, but deemed it too mainstream American feminist, dealing with only the "Me and Mom" genre.[80]

Generally, The Woman Warrior has been well received by Kingston's American audience. However, some Asian readers have expressed harsh critiques of her collection. Jeffery Paul Chan expresses displeasure that the collection was posed as non-fiction, a genre label that he believes to belittle Chinese-American experiences. He believes Kingston to have given a distorted view of Chinese-American culture; one that is based on her own experience. Chan is also upset at the mistranslation of the Cantonese term, "ghost" and Benjamin R. Tong, another of Kingston's critics, goes as far as to say that this mistranslation was done deliberately to "suit white tastes so that her book would sell better." [88]

Tong critiques Kingston by saying that she has the sensibility of Chinese-American history but no "organic connection" to it. He claims that she is only "catching pigs," or tricking whites by giving them what they think is Chinese, and selling out her own people.[89]

One critic, Sheryl Mylan believes that Kingston constructs an Orientalist framework to separate herself from her mother and her culture, but in the process she replicates the ideologies of the US dominant culture. Another critic, Sau-ling Wong perceives Kingston's "Orientalist effect" to be the result of Kingston's failure to critique patriarchal values or institutional racism, resulting in misconceptions about Chinese culture and Chinese-Americans.[86] Other critics, such as David Li, suggests that the collection functions as "a means of contesting power between the dominant culture and the ethnic community; whose value lies in foregrounding the representational issues that have accompanied growth of Asian American creative and critical production."[86]

Among Kingston's most relentless critics is Frank Chin, who accuses Kingston of being "unChinese" and "a fake." [90] He criticizes Kingston for giving her readers more Orientalist stereotypes, as well as criticizing her readers for accepting these stereotypes.[91] Chin also accuses Kingston of "practising an inauthentic Orientalism inherited from the apologetic autobiographies written in the Chinese American 'high' tradition." [92]

In Kingston's defense, reviewer Deborah L. Madsen explains this accusation as Chin's tendency to privilege the low, working-class tradition of Chinese-American writing as "authentic," which is not Kingston's tradition. Madsen claims that autobiographical Chinese-American writing is full of competing discourses that differ both culturally and racially, and as Chinese-American writers seek both Chinese ethnicity and American citizenship, the result may be "a subversion of racial authenticity," which she believes to be the case with Kingston.[93] Other reviewers, such as Jeehyun Lim believes that the criticism that accuses Kingston's representation of the Chinese-American community as barbaric, "misreads her play with ideas of foreignness and nativeness." [94] Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong criticizes Tong and Chan for their demands of cultural authenticity:

To demand orthodoxy in the treatment of ethnic experiences is to subscribe to a narrowly utilitarian theory of literature, and the price one pays for this simplification is the same as the price one pays for the censorship of Extravagance seen repeatedly in this study: a reduction in the fullness of life, a shrinking of the self to meaner if more manageable proportions.[59]

In 1982, Kingston herself wrote a rebuttal essay entitled "Cultural Mis-readings by American Reviewers" in which she disparaged her critics for insisting she represent the Chinese or aspire to some standard of excellence set forth by other Chinese-American authors. "Why must I 'represent' anyone besides myself?" Kingston asks.[95]

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