The Woman Warrior – Kingston

Kingston is an elusive, multi-faceted narrator in The Woman Warrior. Sometimes she disappears entirely into the story of someone else, as in the mythical story of Fa Mu Lan in “White Tigers.” At other times she just disappears completely, as in the story of her aunt Moon Orchid in “At the Western Palace,” a chapter that does not contain a single instance of the word “I”—obviously very unusual for an autobiographical work. It is worth noting that when Kingston discusses The Woman Warrior elsewhere, she puts quotes around the “I.” This underscores the fact that the narrator is in many ways just as made-up as a character in a work of fiction.
It is important to realize just how different The Woman Warrior is from traditional memoirs and autobiographies, in which we can count on the stability and reliability of the “I” as a guide to the text. Because the “I” changes in The Woman Warrior, we cannot rely on the author to provide a truthful account in the strictest sense of the word. We learn, for instance, that the entire confrontation episode in “At the Western Palace” was told to Kingston second- or even third-hand. We wonder, therefore, just how much of this episode is true. At the end of the text, Kingston admits that even she cannot tell what is fact from fiction. Her point, however, is that the truth does not really matter. What is important are Kingstons memories and how she comes to terms with them.
Kingston takes on so many voices and personas that it is difficult to pin down a list of character traits. Throughout the memoir she is at times rebellious, verbally lashing out against her mother as a teenager; curious and imaginative, inventing scenarios about her unnamed aunt in “No-Name Woman”; meek, allowing her racist bosses walk all over her in “White Tigers”; and cruel, tormenting a poor silent girl in her school. We do see, however, broad changes in Kingstons character—personal growth that does make the text seem, at times, more like a traditional autobiography. Kingston grows from a girl who can barely speak to a woman who finds outlet for her words on paper. She grows from someone scared by the ghosts of her mothers talk-stories to a person who can peer into the dark corners of her past. Perhaps most important, she grows from a frustrated and anguished daughter to an independent adult who can compose a poetic memoir about her heritage.