Compromise Formations: Current Directions in Psychoanalytic Criticism

By Vera J. Camden | Go to book overview

Kingston's The Woman Warrior:
The Object of Autobiographical
Relations

Elise Miller

Autobiographies—narratives defined by the need to assert, "I am"—can tell us a great deal about the aggression required to claim our existence and the dangers of defining our identity and of celebrating our separateness from others. Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior (1977) is no exception. Indeed, her unconventional text, structured largely around the third-person point of view, reveals something most autobiographies obfuscate: that the process of composing an autobiography inevitably entails a regression to one's earliest stages of development. The autobiography is thus a reenactment of infantile modes of being in and relating to the world. The unusual structure of The Woman Warrior reflects Kingston's interest in fantasy, dreams, and unconscious memories, and more importantly, reveals, as Margaret Mahler states, that an "old, partially unresolved sense of self-identity and of body boundaries, or old conflicts over separation and separateness, can be reactivated (or can remain peripherally or even centrally active) at any or all stages of life" (4-5). 1

Kingston divides her autobiography into five discrete sections. The first four are devoted to the stories of important female figures in Kingston's life. In the first chapter, "No Name Woman," Kingston's aunt (and the black sheep of the family) bears a child out of wedlock in China and then kills herself and her newborn. The second story remains in China to retell the myth of Fa Mu Lan, a famous Chinese heroine. The middle talk-story narrates Kingston's mother's education as a doctor and later immigration to the United States. Kingston's other aunt, Moon

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