Maxine Hong Kingston

"No Name Woman"

There is a theme here which we have come across before. That is, the theme of the gap between the children of the immigrants and the culture that they came from. Who am I? Am I an American? Or am I Chinese, British, Irish, or German. We've studied this in a variety of areas. And so Maxine Hong Kingston, her very name, is reflective of the American melting pot. We assume that she was born with the name Hong and married an American fellow named Kingston. This is what happens in America, the back grounds get muddy. In a since though, you start to lose touch with those roots and she's trying to get in touch with her roots, and in particular get there through meditation on what happened to her aunt.

What was it that happened to her Aunt, the No Name Woman? She got pregnant, now why was this a problem? They had married him off, and by the way, it would be perfectly legitimate for him to go over to America and have a second wife. But it was not considered proper for the woman to have a second man around. Chinese double standard pretty much matches the Western double standard in that area. So, when she gets pregnant, what happens, what does the village do? They come and tear the place up. Possibly even the man himself, the guy who did the deed? Again with the double standard. The woman is the one who gets caught, that is pregnant. Where as he goes on without having been known, much less punished. Even had he been known, he probably still would not have been punished. Never the less, she doesn't say who it is.

Now how does her family treat her? An internal disowning, they give her the silent treatment in the house. She is not allowed to eat with everyone else. In a since, it is worse then if she was just expelled. She compares this to the Japanese culture. You could become a Geisha, if you were a woman with a tainted background. And go off an have some sort of independent existence. Here, you exist through your family. They punish her to the point of taking away her name. Now what does this do, if her name is not mentioned? Part of the Chinese culture is placating the ancestors. Pay them money so they can have money in the underworld. Do things for them to keep their memory alive. But she has been forgotten, she has no name. In the end, she kills herself. How does she do it? 'She jumps in the well.' says a student.

What does this do to the family? They have to dig a new well, they have tainted water. My mother, when she was just a three year old got a bunch of sticks and chunked them down the well. And it ruined the well, they had to dig another one. They didn't take away her name, but they explained to her that they would prefer it if they didn't throw sticks down the well. She ruins the well, as a way of striking back. Say burning your house down with you in it would be similar. It's a way of not only killing herself but also lashing out at the family. 'Well, you'll be sorry'. A large part of this story goes beyond simply this plot. And Kingston tries to get into the mind of this unnamed ancestor. What are the different possibilities that would drive this woman to commit adultery. What are the different motives. Maybe she was forced by someone and she didn't have any say so in it. He said, 'You are going to have sex with me', and the women are in a subordinate position and it is rather hard to say no. What else? Maybe she was in love? That is probably too American an idea. Kingston dismisses this idea. That may be a way I think, but how would she think? And so here again, we get into this contrast between our generation and the one before. Between our culture and the old countries culture. So she is having to try and think like a Chinese woman. And she is Chinese-American but that American has a big part on her perspective. So lopping that off and getting strictly into the mind of the Chinese is difficult for her.