Samples Literature Maxine Hong Kingston

Maxine Hong Kingston

713 words 3 page(s)

Montgomery College interviewed author Maxine Hong Kingston as the 2011 Honoree of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference. Kingston is a noted writer due to her works highlighting her experiences as a Chinese immigrant and her work as a feminist advocate. Throughout this interview, she speaks to the focus of her work, including her portrayal of taboo and women’s issues.

Kingston stated during the interview that Fitzgerald appealed to her as an author because of his emphasis on the human condition and emotions. This influenced her own career, where she started as a writer of poetry. This initial focus on poetry is evident in her prose, especially her first book The Woman Warrior. The Woman Warrior is made up of five chapters that appear like short stories, but are interconnected and impact one another. Kingston’s poet-background is evident in her use of symbols and traditional Chinese folklore which she weaves into the prose.

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In the chapter “No Name Woman”, the narrator’s aunt killed herself, and is therefore never spoken of due to the shame it brought to the family. The woman was apparently disliked by the family due to her history, which a pregnancy out of wedlock. In despair, the woman gives birth and kills both herself and the child. Different perspectives are given on the woman’s story, from making her despicable and without conscience to being a victim of rape and callous family. Kingston portrays the woman as a victim of the social norms of the time and that the real crime was the cruelty and coldness of the family.

Kingston mentions “No Name Woman” in her explanation of her focus on taboos. Things like adultery, pregnancy, and suicide are never talked about—or only in shameful whispers—because of the taboo associated with them. Kingston explains during her interview that she aimed to break these taboos by talking about them openly.

Shame, despair, depression, and hate are all emotions humans experience in their lives, but instead of sharing these common experiences, they are hidden. Exposing them would mean isolation; seeing them in someone else means they are mocked. We are united in our hate of violations of social niceties. Through Kingston’s works, she exposes this hypocrisy as a common experience in all cultures and nations.

One of the aspects Kingston explores in the search for a voice in a culture or world that would suppress it. Particularly with women, they are held down by their society and even their own families, who would disown them or harm them for being different. In “No Name Woman”, the shamed woman is attacked by the neighborhood for acting in a way they view as shameful and wrong, and her family does nothing to protect her and instead joins them in abusing and disowning her.

Even while Kingston’s works have a focus on the Chinese experience in that particular culture, her focus on social norms and shame expose the universality of human emotions. An English woman, Kingston explains, may deal with taboo and the disgust of her neighbors for violating social constructs. “No Name Woman” may be something that the woman can read and draw inspiration from, to talk about these taboos as common to the human experience.

One of the key areas Kingston also touched on during the interview was the difficulty of translation. Word for word translation is not possible; Kingston had to take into account the whole weight and feeling of an entire culture and try to put it into terms an English-speaking audience would understand. This produced a unique layering of cultures and understandings that provide a unique depth and scope to her work. This elevates her work past the point of a specific culture, but increases its relatability to all audiences.

This interview provides new insights for the reader for interpretation and discussion. Kingston cannot be minimized as only an “Asian writer” and her work is not only relatable to those with a similar cultural background. With that in mind, how does Kingston’s layering of cultures change interpretations of “No Name Woman”?

  • Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Amongst Ghosts. New York: Random House, 1975.
  • Montgomery College. “2011 F. Scott Fitzgerald Interview with Maxine Hong Kingston”. YouTube. 21 Nov. 2011. Retrieved on 7 June 2015.