The Woman Warrior

Silence and Language in "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe" College

Maxine Kingston’s The Woman Warrior wrestles with the importance of language for Chinese-American women, using Kingston's own life experiences as the novel’s foundation. In the book’s final chapter, “A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe,” she details her developing relationship with silence and language. Kingston voices her frustration and mistrust of Chinese tradition in that both its speaking and silence elude connection to her. She argues that she must find a voice of her own, as a Chinese-American woman, in order to bridge the gap between generations and communities and that this voice must be used to empower others, not tear them down. It is through the arts that this voice takes form, be it through song or literature, as in the case of the novel.

Throughout the chapter, it is clear that Kingston’s struggle to find her own voice is entwined with her struggle to make sense of the Chinese voice tradition. Is silence or loudness the embodiment of being Chinese, particularly for a Chinese woman? As a young child, she mainly identifies with silence and initially views silence as integral to being a Chinese girl – “The other Chinese girls did not talk either, so I knew the silence had to do with being a Chinese girl” (166). Silence...

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