Throughout “The Woman Warrior” by Maxine Kingston, the cultural differences between Chinese and American culture are laid out through Kingston’s life. However, in the chapter “In the Western Palace”, cultural differences are laid out between different types of Chinese people who have emigrated into the United States, each with their own ideas and views of both cultures clashing. There is a clear difference as to how Brave Orchid and her children and Moon Orchid, view American culture, marriage, and relationships with the children.
Cultural differences start with how Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid view certain parts of American culture. Brave Orchid regularly denigrates American culture, which she views as wasteful and uncivilized. She constantly compares Chinese culture to American culture, specifically when it comes into contact with the children. When they receive a gift from Moon Orchid, Brave Orchid refers back to tradition, saying that “How greedy to play with presents, in front of the giver.(131)” She refers back to tradition because she views the American way of behavior as “impolite” to her when it’s actually “untraditional” because it is not the Chinese way.
In addition to this, her lack of communication skills toward her children allow for the hidden development of the children’s ideology of wanting to be “American-Normal.” This is because Brave Orchid “which their parents didn’t seem to hear.” consider English to be a “language,” the children may speak it without getting into trouble. Unfortunately, this language barrier dramatically increases the cultural gap between Brave Orchid and her children: Brave Orchid will not master English because it symbolize the barbarous American culture which she rejects, and the children resist speaking Chinese because they want to be “American-normal.” This silence signifies the separation between Brave Orchid’s views on Chinese and American culture, and how her children want to be more assimilated in American Culture. However, Brave Orchid is not fully immune to the effects of American culture, and even succumbs to some ideas of it, such as the American practice of hanging pictures of relatives in the house, such as her and her husbands. When questioned by Moon Orchid by this, she responds saying “No reason. Nothing. . . . In America you can put up anybody’s picture you like.(125)”. While the response seems to be small, it is shown that Brave Orchid is affected by parts of American culture, no matter how much she tries to resist it. Brave Orchid has had plenty of time to observe and pick out parts of American culture she deems as worthy.
Moon Orchid on the other hand, is more or less forced into American culture, and has to view it through the eyes of living with her sister, her sisters children, and confronting her husband. In contrast to Brave Orchid, Moon Orchid emerges as delicate and and not very headstrong. Her “high-class city accent from living in Hong Kong” symbolically reveals a frail woman who has never worked in her life, and who has had servants fulfill her every need. However, she was”eager to work, roughing it in the wilderness.”, when working cleaning dishes and doing laundry with Brave Orchid, despite her comfortable life in China. (135). She also seems not very passive aggressive and constantly has to be told to do something, such as when questioned about her confronting her husband multiple times by Brave Orchid, she responds saying “Do we have to do something?” This shows that she seems rather okay with her husbands actions of having a second wife, as in Chinese culture, the practice of having more than one wife is normal, however this is illegal in American Culture. Moon Orchid also questions Brave Orchid’s children, calling them savages who smelt like cows milk because, “At first she thought they were so clumsy, they spilled it on their clothes. But soon she decided they themselves smelled of milk.”. This is because Moon Orchid does not realize that many Americans drink milk for their entire lives, while Brave Orchids children do not realize that Chinese only drink milk during infancy. This shows the cultural differences between Moon Orchid , Brave Orchid and her children.
Since coming to America, Moon Orchid is forced to assimilate into American culture rather quickly but does not understand how to adjust very well and seems to question why Americans do certain things differently they do in China. In addition, Brave Orchid and the children seem to exhibit different characteristics of both people who accept American culture and want to fit in, and people who reject some ideas of American culture. It is safe to say that both Brave Orchid and her children question Moon Orchids views toward the ideas of assimilating into the American culture to which she does not understand fully yet.
Do you think that Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid’s actions and responses toward American culture are justified? Why or Why not?
If Moon Orchid had the experience and time in American culture just like Brave Orchid and Kingston had before her, do you think Moon Orchid’s views would be similar or different than Brave Orchid’s?