What’s Real vs. What’s Unreal by Madison Reger

Writer’s Reflection

Inquiry 1 was a learning experience, and I feel like it taught me a valuable skill, close reading. I had never really “close read” before this assignment, but I feel like it is a good technique to know and although it felt rushed, I enjoyed writing the essay. The feedback I received from Mr. Groff was extremely helpful because it allowed me to take me paper to a new level of complexity. We discussed deeper meanings that were hidden in the text that I may have never noticed because I stopped analyzing deeper. He also helped me to connect each of my paragraphs, which is something I struggle with. I tend to have a hard time making smooth transitions between different thoughts and paragraphs. I changed the content I included in each paragraph in order to connect all the ideas and make the paper flow nicely.  I also added more references from the book with specific passages. I didn’t seem to have a problem analyzing the text, but I still think I could work on my skill, and analyze even more effectively. I enjoy finding the deeper meaning within a piece of writing, so this essay was right up my ally but I look forward to working on Inquiry 2.


Madison Reger


As a young girl, Maxine Kingston was stuck between a fantasy life and reality. She was a Chinese girl living in America being raised on Chinese tradition and values. Her mother would constantly tell her stories, which made it very hard for Maxine to distinguish what was real and what was unreal. In A Woman Warrior, Kingston tells tales from her childhood, some reality and some fantasy. She gives the reader a sense of what her childhood was like living with her traditional Chinese family in America. Kingston’s outlook on life was heavily impacted by the way she was raised. She was never rewarded for doing something good, and she was always told she could’ve done better. Due to her Chinese background, Kingston was forced to grow up feeling like she was useless because she was a girl. In her memoir she explains some of the situations she encountered as a young child. Throughout her childhood Kingston was constantly trying to be noticed. Since she knew she wasn’t going to get praise and appreciation like the characters in the fantasy stories she was told, she would act out so her mother would at least acknowledge her. Kingston was constantly trying to be like the characters in the fantasy stories she was told because she longed for acceptance. The longing for acceptance still strongly exists today in many people’s lives. Movies and books make us believe that our lives can truly be like the fantasy we see on a screen or read on a page. Stories impact the way we behave and our personal outlook on life. Stories help us to escape reality and cause us to hope for fantasy to become reality. Kingston’s experiences reveal that stories can often send mixed messages and they can instill false perceptions of how to live life.

Perceptions are hard to move past especially when they’ve been instilled at a young age. Kingston was constantly living in a limbo area between fantasy and reality during her childhood because her mother would tell her Chinese fables whenever she wanted to teach Kingston a lesson or prevent her from doing wrong. Throughout the memoir when Kingston transitions from telling a story she was told in her childhood to telling about her actual childhood, the tone shifts dramatically from one of hope, dreams, and admiration to one of disappointment, dissatisfaction, and anger. More specifically, the transition is as follows, “…the villagers would make a legend about my perfect filiality.  (line break) My American life has been such a disappointment” (45). There is an immediate shift in tonality and overall feeling of the book as a whole. Kingston uses transitions like this to pull the reader out of the fantasy story she was previously telling. It’s as if she too is pulled into the stories she’s telling, but then she remembers the reality and is immediately taken aback by the life she lived. The abrupt shifts are also accompanied by different word choices in each section. For example, “They would sacrifice a pig to the gods that I had returned” (45). The word choice in this section dramatically contrasts with the words she chooses to use when she is talking about her American life. The words used in the fantasy story are ones of agriculture and sacrifice while the words used to explain her American life are plain, simple, and mostly negative. The language from the fantasy stories does not overflow into the stories about reality. The fantasy stories use such elegant and complex language to teach lessons but the reality is that the language and the lessons do not directly translate into real life.

The story of the swordswoman taught Kingston that she could be “great” and that she would be rewarded for boldness but she soon finds out that her actions of boldness are not rewarded. The story is sending mixed messages and as a child it was hard for Kingston to distinguish what she could rely on from the stories she heard, and what she could not rely on. The fantasy stories that Kingston heard as a child were often associated with unpleasant memories because unacceptable actions by Kingston brought on each story her mother told her.

Kingston makes numerous references to horrible experiences she encountered as a young girl living in America with Chinese natives. She expresses to the reader how she was treated, and directly states how she felt after certain experiences. For example Kingston says, “I got straight A’s, Mama.” And instead of replying with “That’s great honey!” her mother says, “Let me tell you a true story about a girl who saved her village” (45). Kingston is giving the reader insight into the childhood she lived by using direct quotes from traumatizing times in her younger years. Kingston’s mother always used stories to teach her a lesson or to tell her how she could have done better. This technique is effective when teaching lessons, but it is also hurtful when it is used to tell Kingston how she could have done something better. The stories make Kingston feel like she can do anything until she realizes it is just a story and that she is nothing like the character in the story. Coming to that realization though forces Kingston to try harder to become great like the characters in the story. She tries to “live” the story in her real life. Kingston proceeds to tell the reader, “I could not figure out what was my village. And it was important that I do something big and fine, or else my parents would sell me when we made our way back to China”(46). Living in America, Kingston was still surrounded by Chinese emigrants who believed in traditional Chinese practices and rules. By stating she could not figure out what her village was, Kingston is telling the reader she was stuck between two worlds, she felt lost as a child and not appreciated. This impacted Kingston as she grew up and molded her thoughts, morals, and way of life.  Kingston was so ashamed of being a girl as a child, she directly says, “I would have liked to bring myself back as a boy for my parents to welcome with chickens and pigs” (47). Kingston wishes she were a boy because the story of the swordswoman teaches about a woman being like the stereotypical male, but the culture that Kingston is living in doesn’t value those traits in a woman. Kingston is constantly trying to embody male characteristics, but since she obviously could not change herself into a boy, her pent up feelings of shame and anger turned her into a woman seeking to prove herself to her mother, father, and judgmental emigrant villagers. Kingston gives examples of what she would do as a child to make her mother notice her. She would act out so her mother would call her a bad girl because she believed a bad girl was closer to being a boy rather than a good girl.

The anger did not stay in her childhood, it grew with her as she matured. She says, “Even now, unless I’m happy, I burn the food when I cook. I do not feed people. I let the dirty dishes rot” (47). Kingston is spiteful because of the hurt feelings she accumulated over the years. The story about the swordswoman that Kingston’s mother told her when she was younger, made Kingston feel like she could be great until she remembered it wasn’t her life. This story influenced the way that Kingston acted because since she was not receiving praise like the swordswoman she would settle for attention. The attention was always bad because she would have to do something that would get her in trouble in order to be acknowledged. She feels the need, even now, to do things the way she is expected to. Always being told what to do and how to do things, Kingston no longer feels the need to please people the way they expect her to. She tries to rebel, but she is still using the story as her foundation and reason for her actions. Kingston still wants attention, whether it is bad or good, she is still longing to become a swordswoman. She even says, “…perhaps I could make myself a warrior like the swordswoman who drives me” (48). Kingston is still using the story, she was told as a child, to live her life. She was punished, hurt, and ashamed as a child and now she wants to do everything in her power to become great like the people her mother talked about and she longs to prove wrong all the people who were mean to her in her childhood.

Kingston tells about her world and her feelings, which makes the reader feel sorry for her but also forces the reader to question their own childhood and how they were raised. The Woman Warrior is not only capable of bringing out feelings of anger and hurt in readers, but also is capable of making readers appreciate their childhood and their parents. It is also capable of making readers realize which stories from their childhood they are secretly trying to live through.  Kingston’s ability to pull readers in and then switch tone so rapidly adds to the drama she is explaining. In one instance the reader may feel sorry for her, but within a few lines of text she exclaims she will eat from other people’s tables but that she won’t ask them to eat from hers’. The feminist attitude that Kingston is portraying stems from resentment and pain from her past but comes across as stubborn and rude. Kingston wants the reader to know that she is strong and independent but through certain passages it is evident that she is still longing to be appreciated and acknowledged as important like the swordswoman.

Works Cited

Kingston, Maxine H. “White Tigers.” The Woman Warrior Memoirs of a Childhood among Ghosts. New York: Vintage, 1989. 45-47. Print.