Interpretation Of The Woman Warrior From A Radical Feminist Perspective 

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer


Maxine Hong Kingston’s novel The Woman Warrior (1976) deals with the struggles of the Chinese women within American culture. The novel poses itself as the mixture of the memoirs and mythical stories of the author. Kingston, by mixing the stories with memoirs, aims at presenting the problems of the women. Characters of the novel, No Name Woman, Fa Mu Lan and Brave Orchid represents the Woman Warriors who defeats the patriarchy by subverting the stereotypical assumptions of the society. This paper will, therefore, evaluate and analyze The Woman Warrior from Radical Feminist perspective by demonstrating the chapters of the novel. Firstly, information about radical feminism and its premises will be given. Secondly, analysis of the novel from radical feminist perspective will be done.


Radical feminism is a system of thought which emphasizes the inequality between men and women caused by the patriarchy. Just like other brances of the feminism, radical feminism also believes that the patriarchy is the main source of the opression and limitation of social rights of women. The idea of gender, which is created by the systematical practices of patriarchy to benefit itself, is considered to be a social construct, and is therefore the reason of the inequality between men and women. As Jeffreys puts it: “In the radical feminist approach, masculinity is the behaviour of the male ruling class and femininity is the behaviour of the subordinate class of women. Thus gender can have no place in the egalitarian future that feminism aims to create” (Jeffreys 42). The problem of hierarchical structures, and the problem of inequality can only be solved by destroying these social constructs such as gender and other practices of patriarchy for radical feminists.

Roots of radical feminism goes back to the times between 1960s and 1970s. Women of those times who were involved in anti-war and left political movements felt the need to raise voice against the men who were also involved in the same movements. As the struggle of power relations within the movement came into reality, the urge for the equal power had shown itself. Different feminist groups came into being as a consequence of the unequal power between men and women, created by the patriarchal practices. Radical feminism marked itself for its radicality in the thought and in the action. The idea of compulsory heterosexuality has been challenged within a mostly heterosexual society by radical feminists and made them to be regarded as “radical” by other people.

Radical feminism rejects political and social organizations because of its connection with patriarchy. As those organizations are closely connected with patriarchy, they do not try to adjust legal systems, Instead, they try to take action against patriarchy to end its ideological existance. Radical feminism does not oppose men but patriarchy. It does not necessarily mean man hating. As associating all of the men with patriarchy would be wrong, associating radical feminism with man hating would also be wrong too. Former prime minister of England Margaret Thatcher would be an example of the system of patriarchy: As she was a woman who had the power, she was lacking the “sisterhood” that the women needed. Her patriarchal appearence in the politics received criticism. Therefore, it is not possible to say that radical feminism opposes men; it opposes the patriarchal ideology.

One central issue that radical feminists put emphasis on his the women’s freedom to give birth or freedom to have an abortion. Abortion is controlled by goverment, which is another form of patriarchy for radical feminists. “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” As it is stated in the quotation, inability to take decision on something completely personal concerning freedom of the body is considered to be a problem which needs to be put emphasis on.

Another issue that radical feminism and feminists deal with is the traditional gender roles in private and public relationships. As gender is a socially constructed idea, radical feminists aim at breaking down the all of the constructions that are created by the patriarchy. Associating women with angel to limit women in private and public domains, is one idea that radical feminists criticizes. The idea that women have responsibilities concerning public domain, goes back to the times of Victorian era, which is traditional. As it is a traditional, it limits women in both public and private domain, which is criticised by radical feminists.

Seeing rape as a consequence of patriarchal power is another premise that radical feminism puts emphasis on. Rape is considered to be the consequence of patriarchy because there is a legitimazation of patriarchal power in the legal systems. As the power of the patriarchy is guarded by the goverment associations and cultures, the act of rape is being seen as the consequence of seeking of sex, putting women in the place of as if they were not the victims. Radical feminists, see the rape as a violation of the body. As Brownmiller puts it : “ rape has little, if anything, to do with sex, and everything to do with violence”. Practices of patriarchy, causes rape to be seen as seeking of sex rather than the violation of the body.

In addition to constructiveness of the gender, radical feminists also makes critique of the motherhood, marriage and culture. With the questioning of the gender, radical feminists goes further to explore other practices of patriarchy to criticise them. Just like gender, our culture is also based on the practices of patriarchy. As the culture is based on the assumptions of the patriarchy, women faces the oppression of the culture which is criticised by the radical feminists.

The Woman Warrior, which is the collections of the memoirs of the author Maxine Hong Kingston, is the novel which exposes the issues of the women within Chinese culture. The novel consists of 5 different chapters, and each of them deals with the struggles of the women. First chapter No Name Woman, is the chapter that concerns Maxine’s dead aunt, whose name is not known. Second chapter White Tigers, includes a mythical female warrior named Fa Mu Lan. Third chapter Shaman, focuses on the story of Maxine’s mother Brave Orchid. Fourth chapter At the Western Palace, deals with Maxine’s another aunt named Moon Orchid. Last chapter A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe centers Maxine herself. Each of the chapters deal with the issues that women face within cultures and therefore can be read from the radical feminist perspective.

One way of analyzing the struggles of the women in The Woman Warrior from radical feminist perspective can be done by demonstrating the first chapter. First Chapter No Name Woman starts with the lines of Maxine telling “ ‘You must not tell anyone,’ my mother said”. In the very first lines of the novel, reader confronts with one of the patriarchal practices: silencing. Although Maxine’s mother Brave Orchid is one of the woman warriors in the novel, patriarchal tradition forces her to tell her daughter to be quiet about her sister who is suicided. This situation shows the reader that the culture that they brought up in, carries patriarchal characteristics such as silencing.

Maxine’s aunt’s reason of suiciding is revealed in the next pages of the novel: “They ripped up her clothes and shoes and broke her combs, grinding them underfoot. They tore her work from the loom”. This quotation allows reader to see the reason behind the suicide of her no name aunt. Villagers, who are the representatives of the patriarchal culture, goes to attack her aunt by attempting to destroy her room. It can be concluded that illegitimate child is forbidden among the villagers. The idea of abortion seems forbidden within the culture they live in, as her aunt had no chance of aborting but giving birth. “Your aunt gave birth in the pigsty that night. The next morning when I went for the water, I found her and the baby plugging up the family well”. The patriarchal oppression and inability to have the freedom of aborting results in the death of the aunt and the baby. Kingston, by showing the oppression of the patriarchy, allows reader to see the consequences of such ideology.

Traditional and cultural characteristics of Chinese men are used by Kingston to show patriarchy’s ridiculousness. As a society which puts women in the second place, Chinese culture and men are shown to be extreme in their behaviour :

“Don’t let your father know that I told you. He denies her. Now that you have started to menstruate, what happened to her could happen to you. Don’t humiliate us. You wouldn’t like to be forgotten as if you had never been born. The villagers are watchful.” 

As illustrated in the quotation, a woman who has an illegitimate child is considered to be non-existent within Chinese culture. Having sexual freedom is a reason to be humiliated and to be invisible. No Name Woman, by having sexual freedom, can be considered as a woman warrior who rejected the chinese culture and tradition. Although her action is punished by the society and led her to death, her “radical” appearence marks her as a warrior who went against the traditional roles that patriarchy emposed on.

Second chapter White Tigers, starts as a talk story between the Maxine and her mother Brave Orchid and another example chapter to interprete the novel from radical feminist perspective. As the novel goes on, Maxine imagines herself as the Chinese mythical warrior Fa Mu Lan. In the story, she is trained in the mountains by two old couples who were the mentors of her. By fighting with the baron in hard conditions, she is also regarded as the woman warrior in the form of Fa Mu Lan. “We made a sling for the baby inside my big armor, and rode back into the thickest part of the fighting”. The idea that Maxine carrying a baby inside her armor and going to fight with the baron clarifies that a woman no matter what the situation is, is capable of achieving what they want. Unlike stereotypical love stories, white tigers tells the story of a women who goes on to save her husband. By subverting and destroying the gender roles, Kingston shows that a women can achieve anything they want if they wanted. Her warrior appearance, adds to the radicality of the novel in terms of subverting the gender roles.

In the second part of the second chapter, Maxine imagines herself in America as Fa Mu Lan but things doesnt work out as it did in the first part of the second chapter.She comfronts with Chinese-American villagers who are so tied up with the Chinese culture : “When one of my parents or the emigrant villagers said, ‘feeding girls is feeding cowbirds,’”,… “There is no profit in raising girls. Better to raise geese than girls”. These quotations makes it clear for reader to see the ideology and thinking of the chinese culture about girls. Girls are being valued for their “profit” rather than their personal value. Kingston, by giving voice to the villagers, shows the opportunist view of the patriarchy.

The opportunist view of the patriarchy, gives no importance to the girls. By giving no importance to them, they are being put to the second place : “ ‘I’m not a bad girl,’ I would scream. ‘I’m not a bad girl. I’m not a bad girl.’ I might as well have said, ‘I’m not a girl”. In this quotation, as Maxine tells her mother that she is not a bad girl, unconsciously she says that “I’m not a girl”. As she is told by her mother not to be a “bad girl”, Maxine unconsciously associates being a girl with being bad. That is the reason why she says “I’m not a girl”. Such oppression of the Chinese culture, forces her unconscious to relate being a girl with being bad.

Another way of reading the The Woman Warrior from radical feminist perspectice can be done through by analyzing the chapter three, Shaman. It is the chapter that deals with Maxine’s mother, Brave Orchid’s life in China. Although the conversation is done through talk-story style, Maxine uses her imagination to dream her mother as a shaman who fights with the ghosts and becomes the saviour of the medical school. Her being a doctor, and a saviour who fights with the ghosts, makes her to be seen as an another woman warrior. She is a warrior in a sense that she saved the medical school from the ghosts. “ I am brave and good. Also I have bodily strength and control. Good people do not lose to ghosts”. Her brave and good characteristic which was the reason she won against the ghosts, marks her to be seen as an another woman warrior.

Although Brave Orchid is a woman warrior figure in China who has became a doctor and fought with ghosts, her characteristic in the America carries the characteristics of patriarchy due to the effects of Chinese culture:

“Fifty dollars. That’s because she was sixteen years old. Eight-year olds were about twenty dollars. Five-year olds were ten dollars and up. Two-year olds were about five dollars. Babies were free. During the war, though, when you were born, many people gave older girls away for free. And here I was in the United States paying two hundred dollars for you.”

The quotation shows the reader that the girls are valued and even priced for their usefulness. Brave Orchid being regretful about paying two hundred dollars for Maxine indicates that Brave Orchid has two functioning in the novel. When she is in China, she is considered to be a succesful woman who is a doctor and someone who is respected for her braveness, but when she is in the United States, because of her patriarchal and traditional environment, she is considered to be traditional and representative of the patriarchy.

Chapter four, At the Western Palace is another important section to make the analysis of the novel from radical feminist perspective. It is the chapter that centers Moon Orchid, another aunt of the Maxine. The characteristic of the Moon Orchid is shown to be traditional and submissive Chinese woman, “Again it occured to Brave Orchid that her sister was not very bright, and she had not gotten any smarter in the last thirty years”. After having Moon Orchid in her house, Brave Orchid feels that her sister is still not that smarter. Her reasoning behind Moon Orchid not being smart, is the fact she can not do the simple things like washing the dishes. Although Brave Orchid forces Moon Orchid to go meet with her husband and take the money she needs, Brave Orchid still acts according to patriarchal practices. By associating being able to wash the dishes with being smart, she attributes certain gender roles that her sister has to fill.

Lastly chapter five, A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe, can be interpreted from radical feminist perspective as well. It is the chapter that deals with Maxine’s personal story, in which she imagines and creates different stories. Starting from the period when she was a baby, Maxine starts to question the reason why her tongue was cut: “Sometimes I felt very proud that my mother committed such a powerful act upon me. At other times I was terrified – the first thing my mother did when she saw me was to cut my tongue. – Why did you do that to me, Mother?”. With the feeling of being an outsider in the United States, her mother Brave Orchid cut her a piece of tounge to keep her silent. Although she claims that she cut a piece of her tounge just so she would not be tounge-tied, it is known from the narration of the Maxine that it is connected with the culture they live in. “Things are different in this ghost country”. As Brave Orchid is in the United States, she does not want Chinese culture or it’s people’s reputation to be seen as “bad”. As a Chinese girl in the United States, Maxine becomes double burden, facing the oppression and silincing of the villagers and her mother.

In conclusion, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior can be interpreted from radical feminist perspective by demonstrating the chapters and its woman warriors. No Name Woman’s sexual relationship with someone within a patriarchal society without fear, Maxine and Fa Mu Lan’s appearance as a swordswoman who subvert the stereotypical hero figure as women, and Brave Orchid’s “brave” actions against ghosts and social success as a woman, marks them to be women warriors. By subverting and destroying the practices of patriarchy, these women poses themselves as woman warriors who defeats the hegemony of the patriarchy. Brave Orchid’s functioning as someone who is a warrior and a representation of the patriarchal Chinese cultures, allows reader to interpret the novel from a radical feminist perspective.

Works Cited

  • Brownmiller, S. Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. Penguin Books, 1976.
  • Jeffreys, Sheila. Gender Hurts: a Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism. Routledge, 2014.
  • Kingston, Maxine, H. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Childhood among Ghosts. Vintage, 1989.
  • Sanger, Margaret. Woman and the New Race. Trieste Publishing Pty Ltd, 2017.


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