The Search for a Bicultural Identity by Alysse Illigh

Writer’s Reflection

I really enjoyed writing this essay. Because the prompt was open ended, it gave me the opportunity to be creative in my writing. I think I did a good job of supporting my main claim, that the differences between Chinese and American life during the 1950s/1960s impacted Kingston’s search for identity, with interesting, textual evidence. I also think I did a good job of organizing my essay in a clear, logical pattern. Throughout the writing process, I struggled with the creation of a conclusion. It was difficult for me to think about the broader meaning of my analysis of Kingston’s novel. In order to help with my conclusion, I thought about my interpretation of the text, and my opinion of the main messages of the novel. I also went back and close-read my passage several times, after I had finished the entire novel. This allowed me to see how the short passage I reviewed related to the novel as a whole.

Throughout writing this essay, I was concerned with how to express my opinions/interpretations of the text without making this formal essay an opinion paper. I enjoyed that Inquiry One was open ended, however, I disliked that the essay was based on a single, short passage from the novel. I wanted to talk about several parts of the book, because there was so much textual evidence throughout the entire novel, which supported my claim! Between writing my rough draft and my final draft, I mostly looked deeper upon my ideas, and expanded on the broader implications of the essay. I made these changes because of the feedback I had received. I definitely think the peer review session was helpful. It was great to get comments about my paper from more than just one person! Overall, I enjoyed writing Inquiry One because it allowed me to be creative and formulate my own, original argument about Kingston’s novel.


Maxine Hong Kingston’s, The Woman Warrior, focuses on the relationship between the contrast of Chinese and American lifestyles in the 1950s/1960s and Kingston’s search for her identity. After closely analyzing pages 50-52 in Chapter Two, “White Tigers”, I have developed many new insights about the novel and Kingston’s Chinese-American life. In the short passage that I analytically reviewed, Kingston speaks about the time that her family, while living in the United States, received letters from their overseas Chinese relatives who were begging for money. She states, “If we overseas Chinese would just send money to the Communist bank, our relatives said, they might get a percentage of it for themselves” (Page 50). Analyzing this passage allowed me to develop deeper insights about the differences between life in America and China during the 1950s/1960s, how these differences affected Maxine Hong Kingston as a Chinese-American woman, and how the historical events of her native, communist country impacted her struggle to identify herself.

In the short passage that I analyzed from The Woman Warrior, Kingston uses letters that her family has been receiving from their overseas Chinese relatives to illustrate the current state of Communist China. She best represents the atmosphere of her native Chinese country during this time period through a bolded sentence on page fifty of the novel. Kingston writes, “The aunts in Hong Kong said to send money quickly; their children were begging on the sidewalks, and mean people put dirt in their bowls” (Page 50). She cleverly attracts the reader to this specific sentence by making the font slightly bolder than the regular font of the book. The extreme importance of this phrase is worthy a unique print. The example of the children begging on the streets is pivotal to the reader’s understanding of the cruelty of Communist China. Kingston may attract the reader to this phrase to implicate that her aunts were intelligent in their request for money by using the example of the children begging. The image of children begging on the streets appeals to the emotions of Kingston’s parents, as well as readers interpreting The Woman Warrior. She depicts a vivid image of her parents’ reactions to these letters, stating, “My father screamed in his sleep. My mother wept and crumpled up the letters. She set fire to them page by page in the ashtray…” (Page 50). This particular phrase adds detailed imagery to the passage, which allows the reader to understand the painful effect that the letters had on Kingston’s parents. This vivid description of her mother setting fire to the letters truly exemplifies the grief held by her mother in her wish to erase all evidence of the disturbing news held in the letters, as though destroying the letter would destroy the agony caused by the written words. Through her observations of her parents’ emotional reactions to the letters, Kingston reveals her ambivalent allegiance to China. How could she identify with a native country that inflicts so much pain upon its citizens? Even if the reader is not historically familiar with the differences between Chinese and American life during the 1950s/1960s, the reader can infer that there is a stark contrast between life in the United States and life in China based on the emotional reactions of her Chinese-American parents as they read the letters, in shock.

The contrast between life in China and life in America during this time period greatly affected the development of Kingston as a Chinese-American woman. Through her interpreting and distinguishing between the differences of the two lifestyles, she probably developed characteristics, which defined her as a bicultural woman. Not only was Kingston an American citizen, but also, she was a girl born to Chinese parents. Both of these factors contributed to her identity as a Chinese-American woman. In her hearing of the multiple stories about the hardships her overseas Chinese family is facing, Kingston may feel as though she can begin to express herself and differentiate between cultures. Although she depicts China as being much different than the United States, she hints at similarities between cultures. Kingston highlights racial discrimination in the United States through an experience she vividly remembers. She states, “Once there was an Asian man stabbed next door, words on cloth pinned to his corpse. When the police came around asking questions, my father said, ‘No read Japanese. Japanese words. Me Chinese’” (Page 52). She relates this discrimination and murder scene to the violence her overseas Chinese relatives were facing in China. Kingston reveals elements of racial discrimination taking place during the 1960s in America. I believe she was coming to the understanding that the barbarism in Communist China did not differ vastly from life in the United States. While people in China were persecuted for their faith, gender, or social class, people in the United States were persecuted for their race and cultural background. The differences and parallels between Chinese and American lives during the 1950s/1960s certainly impacted Kingston’s development as a Chinese-American woman growing up in the United States of America.

I believe that through the contrast of her overseas Chinese relatives’ circumstances in Communist China to her current life in the United States of America, Maxine Hong Kingston is able to find her identity. By hearing the stories of her Chinese relatives, Kingston is able to understand what aspects of her character are Chinese, and what qualities are American influenced. Through her ability to relate her current life in the United States of America to that of what she hears about life in China, Maxine Hong Kingston is able to grasp the similarities of the two cultures, while still being able to realize the extreme differences between lifestyles. She realizes that her fighting spirit and warrior character is rooted in her women ancestors back in China, while other aspects of her character are more American influenced. The historical time period of Communist China during the 1950s/1960s and the Chinese letters explaining this lifestyle to Kingston and her Chinese-American family impact her with aid in finding her true identity and differentiating between cultures.

Throughout her novel, Maxine Hong Kingston paints a picture of a woman who knows brutality and discrimination, but is not willing to make herself a victim. Her message to the reader is to allow your history and circumstances to shape you, and fortify you rather than defeat you. Kingston’s message is that you can’t deny your heritage; it will always be a vital contribution to your identity. Her circumstances shaped her as a Chinese-American woman growing up in the 1960s. Her message continues to resonate with the reader in the society we live in today.