Study Guide

The Woman Warrior What's Up With the Title?

By Maxine Hong Kingston

What's Up With the Title?

In the chapter "White Tigers," Maxine Hong Kingston writes about the conflicting stories she was told growing up as a Chinese girl. Was she only worth something as a wife or slave? Or did she have the potential to be a fighter like Fa Mu Lan? The chapter, as well as the book, is a writing experiment that asks: how do you create your life, as a story as a lived experience? Is there a difference? How do you choose which stories you want to work into your own? The title of the book seems to take a stand. Kingston chooses to view her life through the lens of the woman warrior.

The subtitle of the book, Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, immediately signal to us that this is not going to be a traditional autobiography. A memoir is supposed to be about real life. What's up with the ghosts? For one, the Chinese word for ghosts can also mean foreigner, or non-Chinese. Kingston would, of course, have been surrounded by such "ghosts" growing up in America. Issues surrounding foreignness and cultural identity are certainly a main thread throughout the memoir.

Of course, foreign people aren't the only ghosts in this book. We see literal ghosts in the first chapter "No Name Woman" and in "Shaman." All of the mythology and supernatural in this book swirl into the real until we can't be sure whether the ghosts are "real" or not. The interplay between "woman" and "girlhood" in the title tells us, too, that this is a story about growing up – and more specifically, growing up from a female perspective.