Study Guide

The Woman Warrior Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Maxine Hong Kingston

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory


Ghosts permeate (or maybe haunt) the entire book and, we might infer, Kingston's life. Foreigners, non-Chinese people, are represented in the book as ghosts. The book also has literal ghosts. They seem to be an embodiment of fear and things to overcome (like the Sitting Ghost). The idea of one's life as a big ghost story is pretty intense in the context of a book about sharing memories. How are we haunted by what has come before us, by stories others have told, and the relationship we have with others? If you're interested in reading more about ghosts, check out of discussion in "What's Up with the Title?"

Songs for a Barbarian Reed Pipe

Kingston closes the book with the story of Ts'ai Yen and the translated songs that she brought to the Han people in China. As you might have noticed, Kingston also titles the last chapter "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe," which gives us the clue that the five chapters together are Kingston's songs for a Barbarian Reed Pipe, or songs to be read and translated, to be passed on. We see the correlations between Kingston and Ts'ai Yen. Both are Chinese women who are taken away from mainland China. Both use art as the medium for communicating and creating a sense of family tradition.

Words on One's Back

Kingston writes that her parents use knives to write her family into her back before she goes to war. This way, her body is a literal tablet on which the family is represented. Kingston writes that "swordswoman and [she] are not so dissimilar" because they both have words on their backs (2.189). Their form of vengeance for injustices against their families is not necessarily in any hand-to-hand combat, but in the reporting of the stories. In this way, The Woman Warrior is a collection of the words on Kingston's back, trying to do some good by her family and by herself.