Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior And Jennifer Finney Boylan's She's Not There

1793 words - 8 pages

Matt Stewart
Mack
3/10/2011
Sec: 005
Word Count: 1,727
It is an incongruous fact of life that deciding to turn left instead of right can determine what path a person ends up walking in life. This holds true when comparing two memoirs, The Woman Warrior, written by Maxine Hong Kingston and She's Not There, written by Jennifer Finney Boylan. Though both novels fall under the memoir genre, both are unique in their own right. Kingston writes not only about her transition from Chinese society and integration into the drastically different American society, but her families a well. In contrast, Boylan writes of her experience being transgendered and her shift from male to female. However, a comparison of the two memoirs reveals the novels are attempting to do the same thing – retell experiences of a search for identity and through this search, the reconnection of familial bonds that helped develop and shape those identities.
As children, people are curious about the world and attempt to discover what they as individuals like and dislike. During this time, however, because children are young and are watched over by adults, specifically family members, parents can heavily influence their children’s developing identities. In The Woman Warrior, Kingston illustrates that very trait when it comes to her mother. From an early age, “talk stories” were commonly narrated to help influence Kingston, and one of those talk stories was that of Fa Mu Lan. "I had forgotten this chant that was once mine, given me by my mother, who may not have known its power to remind. She said I would grow up a wife and a slave, but she taught me the song of the warrior woman, Fa Mu Lan. I would have to grow up a warrior woman" (Kingston 20). In some of the opening scenes of Kingston's novel, her mother, Brave Orchid, is portrayed as a typical mother who uses variations of stories to help shape her daughter’s identity. As a child, Kingston would dream of or fantasize about being a warrior instead of growing up to be a traditional wife. In fact, the stories of women heroes like Fa Mu Lan motivate her to try hard in school, not to prepare herself for a man, but for herself and her future life. Boylan portrays her mother in a similar manner to Kingston's mother, yet in a way that her mother didn't realize at the time. When Boylan was still young and a male, his mother made the comment that someday he would wear shirts like his father. "I just listened to her strange words, as if they were a language other than English. I didn't understand what she was getting at. She never wore shirts like that. Why would I ever be wearing shirts like my father's" (Boylan 19). Boylan's mother, though not aware of it at the time, was perhaps the initial reason that Boylan felt that she wasn't in the correct body, that something might be wrong. This gradually brought about her concealed wearing of girls clothing while still a male. However, in both memoirs by the two different...

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