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The Woman Warrior

The Woman Warrior


by Maxine Hong Kingston

The Woman Warrior Chapter 3 Summary


  • Kingston describes the metal tube that contains her mom's medical degree from Hackett Medical College in Canton and two other scrolls. Her mom is something of an OB-GYN or gynecologist, baby deliverer. She looks at the graduating class photo and thinks that her mom looks exactly the same, only younger.
  • She moves to a photo of her dad with some friends at Coney Island, New York.
  • Kingston notices that there are no photos of her mom (other than the officious class picture). She finds two small portraits, but there are black thumbprints on her mom's forehead that her mom attributes to First Uncle.
  • The third scroll is mostly in Chinese, with her mom's graduating photo.
  • Kingston had mentioned it in passing before in Chapter 2, but she confirms that her parents had two children (one boy and one girl) who died. Her dad would send her mom money, but she didn't have much to spend it on after the kids died. So, she decided to go to medical school. She took a ship to Canton, the capital of the province.
  • Kingston imagines what the move-in day to the school dormitory was like for her mom. She thinks of the pleasure that her mom must have felt to have a space of her own to take care of. Kingston remarks that this seemingly simple pleasure is how Communist officials ended prostitution: giving women "a job and a room of their own" (3.12).
  • We learn that Kingston's mom was older than most of her classmates. She kept the fact that she had already given birth to two children a secret. She pretended she was only ten, not twenty, years older (3.20).
  • The school encourages its female students and teaches both Chinese and "Western" medicine.
  • Kingston's mom tells her daughter that she became known as a good scholar, the kid who others would copy off of. Out of 112 students who began the program with Kingston's mom, 37 graduated. In order to pass off her smarts as natural gifts, Kingston's mom would make excuses to sneak off and study. People didn't think of her as old but as smarter because of age.
  • The school had a common room in which to study and also provided a private desk in the girls' rooms. Kingston's mom found a secret place her first week. Kingston imagines that the secret room was haunted.
  • Kingston's mom has a talent for naming these ghosts. She figures most of them are nightmares. She was really practical, even back then.
  • One night, when some semi-spooky stuff is going on, some girls are clumped together afraid and giggling. They challenge Kingston's mom to check the rooms. She does and comes back with nothing to report. A classmate says that the ghosts only come out at midnight, and it's not even eleven. So, Kingston's mom says she'll sleep in the ghost room. She brings a knife and a textbook with her.
  • Kingston's mom tells her roommate that she's not scared. However, just in case they find her in a frenzy, they should wiggle her ears, call her name and "tell [her] how to get home" (3.38). Kingston's mom tells her roommates her personal name.
  • Kingston's mom snuggles in her quilt in the ghost room. She falls asleep reading. She wakes up and finds a Sitting Ghost on her chest. She fights it by clawing and pinching. The knife is just out of reach and besides, her arm is tired and weighed down by the ghost's sucking energy. She can sense, too, that no one will come to her aid.
  • Not one to give up, Kingston's mom talks to the Sitting Ghost. She tells it that only one of them will last the night, and it will be her. She tells it how she will light fires in the room and smoke out the ghost. She calls the ghost "Boulder" since that's what it looks like. She then starts chanting lessons for class and falls sleep. As the morning comes, Boulder goes away.
  • Kingston's mom instructs her friends to wiggle her ears, in case a part of her was lost in the encounter. We learn that her name is Brave Orchid. We learn that the school is To Keung School in Kwangtung City.
  • Kingston's mom tells her classmates what the night was like. She says that she "died for a while" around 3 a.m. when she was outwitting Wall Ghosts. She says she was gone for twelve years, but in the room it was only one hour. She is convinced the ghost will strike again if it is not stopped. Kingston's mom enlists the other girls to help end the ghost with buckets, alcohol and oil. They gather and Kingston's mom leads them in their ghost hunt with buckets of fire. When the smoke has cleared, they see a piece of wood drenched in blood on the floor. They burn it and laugh at the grotesque smell.
  • Kingston reflects on how her mom's classmates had to know how to call her spirit back to the school, not to her hometown for then it would have been lost. Kingston says she feels loved whenever her mom pulls her out from nightmares. She takes comfort in hearing her name and home chanted along with her relatives' names.
  • Kingston's mom would also tell her daughter the way home when she was awake, this time telling her the way to go home to her father's village in China.
  • After two years, Kingston's mom returns home from medical school with a degree in midwifery. She is revered in the village. Going to America to live in the Bronx with her husband is a step down for her. Kingston says that her mom never changed her name from Brave Orchid.
  • To celebrate her graduation, her mom went shopping in Canton. She talks to all sorts of people, including a man who tells her how six is the number of the universe. There are people selling everything imaginable, including a stand for little girls.
  • Kingston's mom is looking to buy a slave, so apparently this is the place? She is not interested in overly eager girls or those with embarrassing families; she wants a quiet, dignified girl.
  • She examines the girls' teeth and pulses. She asks one girl a series of questions as tests. She pays half of the desired price for her slave. She tells the girl she is going to be trained to be a nurse. Kingston voices her envy for her mom's enthusiasm for this slave girl.
  • Kingston's mom buys a white puppy to be her bodyguard.
  • Kingston's mom had a sixth sense for people who were about to die. She would not take on these patients, so people came to believe that she could cure anyone.
  • We learn that Kingston's mom bought the nurse girl for 180 Chinese bucks, or 50 bucks American. She paid $200 to the hospital when Kingston was born.
  • At night, Kingston's mom is the only one on the roads other than thieves and various spirits. There's an ape-man brought from "the West" that's been the talk of the town after it escaped its cage (3.129). Kingston's mom has an encounter with this ape-man. The ape-man is human sized and has long orange hair and beard. We learn that Kingston's grandpa had taken a Third Wife from the West who has black skin. Kingston's mom thinks that people from the West all look like that.
  • Kingston's mom would help women give birth in pigsties at night. They would call the newborn an ugly pig so as to confuse the gods who might otherwise take the baby away.
  • Kingston remembers her mom telling of a baby born without an anus. Kingston was afraid of such a ghost child appearing in her childhood bathroom.
  • We learn that some midwives kept clean ashes by the birth bed to quickly suffocate newborn girls. Kingston hopes that her mom didn't do such a thing.
  • Kingston hints that she is overwhelmed by all of these stories of Chinese ghosts and myths.
  • We learn that Kingston's family runs a laundromat. On hot days, her parents will round people up for scary stories to cool everyone down.
  • Kingston's mom tells a story about crossing a footbridge on the way to treat a family. She encounters ghosts they call Sit Dom Kuei. Kingston looks up these words in the dictionary but doesn't know how they translate.
  • Kingston can see how her mom would be a heroic fighter since she is a hardcore eater. "All heroes are bold toward food," she writes (3.145). She writes about Chou Yi-han of Changchow, Chen Luan-feng and Wei Pang, all notable people who could win an eating contest. All to show that "[b]ig eaters win" (3.148).
  • Kingston lists a bunch of stuff her mom has cooked for the family, including monkeys' lips and skunks. Her mom also has a pickled bear's paw in a jar; she rubs any sprains or bruises with its juices.
  • The author remembers how much she hated hearing her mom's monkey story. She never asked her to stop telling it, though. It's a story about bringing in a live monkey, locking a table around its neck, cutting open its scalp, and eating the brains. Kingston describes her wish to block out the horrible images of the story as curtain flaps.
  • If there were ever leftovers, Kingston's family would eat them for however long it took for every last scrap to be gone. Kingston remembers how disgusted some visitors would look.
  • By 1939, Kingston's dad sent enough money for his wife to go to America. Kingston's mom was living as a refugee in the mountains. The Japanese army had taken over a lot of land by the Kwoo River. Kingston explains that the Chinese do not consider the Japanese to be ghosts even though they are technically foreigners. There are stories about how the Japanese really descended from China.
  • Kingston's mom teaches her kids to watch out for airplanes that fly in threes; that's how you know they're going to drop bombs.
  • Kingston's mom started treating people in the cave she hid out in. She created a makeshift bomb shelter and hospital.
  • One day, the "village crazy lady" dances by the river. She's got a headpiece with mirrors on it. People think she is using the headpiece to signal Japanese planes and accuse her of being a spy. The villagers throw rocks at her and beat her until she is dead. Her mom, who "never treated those about to die", watches from the cave (3.180).
  • Kingston's mom leaves China in 1939, six months after the stoning. She arrives in New York in January of 1940.
  • Kingston was born in the middle of World War II (3.182). She grows up terrified by the images in her mind of all types of flying bomb-dropping machines. Kingston lists all the city ghosts she grew up with, like the Newsboy Ghost or Grocery Ghost.
  • Kingston grows up with her parents referencing China as home, but Kingston doesn't want to go back to this place she's heard so many (often sexist) stories about. She writes that she grows up afraid of the world's size, where her parents' home is seems far from her own, where her grandmother is only a sweet taste in her mouth.
  • Years later, when they both have gray hair, Kingston stays over at her mom's house. She wakes up to find her mom sitting by her and staring at her in the dark. Her mom pretty much accuses her of taking LSD. But we get that her mom just misses her daughter not being nearby.
  • Kingston's mom shows her love by guilt-tripping her and saying she's not eating enough. Kingston's mom says her papers are wrong and she's actually older than eighty and will die any day now. Kingston is understandably unnerved.
  • The author's mom denies having children before Kingston. Her mom complains about the work she does with vegetables. Kingston tells her mom that she doesn't need to work in the tomato fields anymore. We learn that urban renewal has torn down their family laundry.
  • Kingston's mom expresses some regret at having left China. She wouldn't have had to work so hard there; America has made her work every day since she set foot here.
  • Kingston thinks back to the days growing up in the family laundry. The piles of dirty clothes were like mountains.
  • Her mom complains that America has aged her. Kingston insists that time is the same wherever you are. Besides, she points out, her mom had six kids after age 45, so it makes sense she is tired.
  • Kingston's mom says that their remaining land in China has been taken over, upon Kingston's dad's agreement. "We have no more China to go home to," says the author's mom (2.245).
  • Kingston says that they belong to the planet.
  • Kingston's mom kind of suggests that other Chinese people in the neighborhood are communists. She says she's too accustomed to eating to return to China. She wishes Kingston and her siblings would return to live with her and her husband. Kingston thinks this is some kind of karma, since her grandma asked her parents to return home, too.
  • Kingston claims that she prefers to be elsewhere, in ghost-free places, where she doesn't worry about being sick or locking doors.
  • When Kingston's mom turns to go, she calls her daughter "Little Dog," which fills Kingston with a renewed sense of calm (3.258). She and her mom were both born in the year of the dragon.
  • They say goodnight, leaving Kingston with her dreams.

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