The Woman Warrior – Brave Orchid

Brave Orchid is as much the protagonist of The Woman Warrior as Kingston is, and her character is nearly as elusive. Brave Orchid is a bundle of contradictions: fiercely intelligent but rarely perceptive, misguided about Moon Orchids husband; proud of her heritage but also guarded about much of her past, such as the suicide of No-Name Woman; and gentle at times to her family but also capable of incredible coldness and cruelty, as in her constant demeaning of her daughters achievements. In many ways Brave Orchid is representative of the emigrant Chinese, who fiercely guard the customs and traditions of their people and consider all Americans to be “ghosts” on the outside. The emigrant Chinese attitude to the American-born Chinese—their own sons and daughters—comes across as a mixture of fear, resentment, and disappointment.
It is clear in the narrative that Brave Orchid has suffered considerable culture shock coming to America, particularly in making the transition from being an independent and well-respected doctor in China to slaving at a laundry and picking tomatoes in California. Throughout most of the memoir she seems to harbor the notion that the family will one day return to China, and she is often quite ignorant—perhaps purposefully so—of the killings that are going on in her home country during the Communist revolution. In one of the more poignant moments of the book, Brave Orchid tells Kingston—after they have been in America for more than thirty years—that they have finally given away the land back in China and that she must resign herself to living in America.
For all of the frustration and anguish behind it, Kingstons portrayal of her mother is also comic. Brave Orchid is a fish out of water in America, and a number of her culture clashes are hilarious. She takes Kingstons cold pill, thinking that it is LSD; she invents wild scenarios in which she helps Moon Orchid reclaim her lost husband; she makes Kingston demand free candy from the pharmacist when he delivers a wrong prescription; she cuts—or so she claims—part of Kingstons tongue in order to loosen up her speech. There is something ridiculous to the extremes of Brave Orchids behavior, and Kingston seems to realize this in hindsight. The humor of the situation thus allows Kingston to take a much kinder view of her mother as an adult than perhaps she could have as a child.