Maxine Hong Kingston was born in Stockton, California, on October 27,
1940. Her parents were Tom and Ying Lan Hong,
who were both emigrants from China. That makes Kingston a first-generation
Asian-American women. In 1962, Kingston attended the University of California,
Berkeley, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in English. That same year she
married to Earll Kingston. Later she earned a teaching credential in 1965, and
taught in California and Hawaii before becoming a famous writer. Her literary
work in 1976, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs
of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, was known worldwide, causing her to become one
of the leading Chinese-American writers today. This literary work won the
National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction the same year it was published.
However, Kingston “always envisioned The
Woman Warrior as the first part of a larger work” (“Biography of Maxine
Hong Kingston”). So she wrote the second part, China Men, in 1980. This second part won the National Book Award a
year after it was published. In Kingston’s career, she also wrote two novels, Tripmaster Monkey and His Fake Book, and an autobiography, The Fifth Book of Peace. Her successful
career has also included receiving the National Medal of Arts from President
Barack Obama in 2013.

            Coming from a Chinese background in the mid
twentieth-century, Kingston references her life growing up in her writings. Her
literary works contain “her vivid portrayals of the magic of her Chinese
ancestry and the struggle of Chinese immigrants to the United States” (“Maxine
Hong Kingston”). Kingston’s was heavily influenced by her parent’s struggle of
absorbing and understanding the American culture, but also the need to remember
to keep their complex cultural traditions. Her mother often told her stories
about her ancestors and magical folk tales. However, the ones that truly caught
her attention were the “narratives about women who had been considered
especially privileged or damned” (“Maxine Hong Kingston”). She kept these women
in mind, desiring to give their life experiences a voice. The Chinese myths
also fascinated her, but her family’s difficulties in life is what truly
troubled her. Maxine developed a love for writing, as her way to understand the
pain in her family and to discover a solution to them.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

            The mystery of China and her family’s life can be seen in
her first book, The Woman Warrior:
Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. In this book Kingston explores the
women who had a major impact on her life. One of these women was her aunt,
whose name was forbidden to say due to her committing a sin to the community.
Kingston feels she was able to rescue her aunt and give her a voice back in her
life by writing about her aunt. In Kingston’s second book, China Men, she intends to give a voice to the male side of her
family. This book is based on the lives of Chinese immigrants settling in the
United States. China Men “contains
stories of loneliness and discrimination as well as determination and strength,
enhanced and embellished by Kingston’s own formidable imagination” (“Maxine
Hong Kingston”). Kingston is able to capture the nativist sentiment of American
society and the struggles of immigration in the early twentieth-century in her
second book.

            Major issues and themes that are noteworthy in Kingston’s
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood
Among Ghosts include the role of women in Chinese society, silence and
voice, and growing up Chinese-American. As a female, Kingston writes about the
role of women in a male-dominated society. However, she says “it is often not
the men themselves who are most oppressive in the memoir, but rather the power
of tradition as carried through women.” (“The Woman Warrior”). Kingston’s mother
often told stories about how women will always be disappointments to their
parents because in Chinese culture, parents wanted to have sons. This theme is
important because Kingston connects this to her background, growing up without
a voice in her community. By retelling the stories of her mother, Kingston was
able to give women a voice and accept what her mother taught her. A second
notable theme is silence and voice. The Chinese emigrants often kept quiet to
protect their community, which caused Kingston to become quiet and shy early on
in her life. So throughout her memoir she develops a process to escape the
silence. In fact, “the very act of writing her story becomes her way of finding
a voice” (“The Woman Warrior”). Lastly growing up a Chinese-American, Kingston
felt the displacement and irritation. As a first generation child, she found
her Chinese traditions very restrictive in the freedoms of America. The Chinese
and American culture caused Kingston to be “torn between both worlds without
really being part of either” (“The Women Warrior”). Once again Kingston
incorporates her childhood experiences into her writing. She had never been to
China when she wrote her memoir, but the book is a discovery of the differences
between Chinese culture and her new family culture.

            Kingston said for herself that her work “was the
beginning of the Asian pride movement and defining what’s Asian-American or
Chinese-American; we didn’t want our literature categorized as anthropology or
sociology,” (Jaggi). Kingston wanted to embrace her heritage, and inspire other
Asian American writers. In her works, she was able to address silence and
denial. This gave a voice to her Chinese culture and women who were left
without a voice. Since her first book was published around the time of the
Vietnam War, the book is also about the blinded victims of the war and the
moral injustice produced from it. Society at the time was also fighting over
racial inequality and feminism. Kingston’s work was able to empower female
leaders to rise in these social movements.

            Kingston’s The
Women Warrior has faced many positive and negative criticisms since it was
published in 1976. One critic, Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, said, “She never retold
myths; she reimagined them for her own purpose” (Jaggi). Lim sees Kingston’s
work recreating myths as a brilliant way to attract an audience. With this
interested audience, Kingston is able to spread the idea of how powerful a
voice is, in society. Another author, Amy Tan, praises the work of Kingston.
Tan says, “Maxine infuses her work with a strong morality; it’s art that moves
people to think in a different way” (Jaggi). Tan doesn’t see Kingston’s
writings as Asian-American literature, but instead as influential American
literature. However despite these positive remarks, one critic, Frank Chin,
despises Kingston’s work. Chin criticized Kingston for “faking Chinese lore,
depicting a cruel China informed by Christian stereotypes, and misrepresenting
Chinese-Americans as having lost touch with ancestral culture” (Jaggi). Chin sees
Kingston’s work offending Chinese literature, despite Kingston claiming her
work as American stories.

            When The Woman
Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts was published in 1976, the
public immediately gave it recognition. Kingston’s first book was “a work of
considerable literary distinction, but it was also very much a book of its
moment” (Yardley). At the time there were two major social movements in
America, feminism and multiculturalism. This book was able to address these
movements directly at the time, and gain an increasingly wide following.
Kingston’s book was treasured by feminist and minorities of the United States, which
motivated these individuals to write stories of their own.