Maxine Hong Kingston throughout the Memoir, The Woman Warrior, makes it known how different American and Chinese cultures are. In chapter four “At the Western Palace” Kingston uses the relationship between Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid, the characteristics of the children, and marriage views to show differences between the cultures. Kingston creates a clear divide that distinguishes the way Brave Orchid’s family has been accustomed to American culture, and how Moon Orchid is not yet accustomed due to the fact that she has been living in Hong Kong.
Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid’s relationship is complicated due to the fact that they have been immersed in two different cultures most of their lives. Brave Orchid is bold is and dominant, where as Moon Orchid is timid and scared. For example on page 145, Moon Orchid is scared that if she shows up to her husband’s house, he may hit her. Moon Orchid says, “What if he hits me?” Her sister responds by saying, “I’ll hit him, I’ll protect you. I’ll hit him back. The two of us will knock him down and make him listen.” Later on, farther down the same page, Moon Orchid shows her timidness when she says, “That is a terrible thing to do. I’d be so scared. I am so scared” (Hong Kingston 145). Brave Orchid gets her courageousness from the way American society functions, and the actions that are widely accepted. Moon Orchid has fearfulness because she has lived without her husband in China for 30 years.
The children are another example of the cultural differences having to do with American society and the cultural norms of the Chinese society. On page 133, Moon Orchid says good morning to her nieces. They respond by saying “Good morning, Aunt” while looking her in the eye. Moon Orchard exclaims that “Even the girls stared at her like cat headed birds” (Hong Kingston 133). The storys says that “Moon Orchid jumped and squirmed when they did that. They looked directly into her eyes. Rude. Acuising. They never lowered their gaze; they hardly blinked” (Hong Kingston 133). In American culture, when children are talking to adults, they are to look them in the eyes as a sign of respect and acknowledgement. In the Chinese culture, looking someone in the eyes is an indication of defiance.
Lastly, marriage ideals show a difference in culture between Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid. Brave Orchid insists that Moon Orchid returns to her husband and steals him back from the woman he married in her absence. Yet, Moon Orchid is very hesitant of this idea. Brave Orchard says, “Your husband is going to have to see you. We’ll make his recognize you. Ha. Won’t it be fun?… She’ll scold him when he comes home from work, and it’ll serve him right. You yell at him too” (Hong Kingston 125). Moon Orchid comes back saying, “I’m scared. I want to go back to Hong Kong” (Hong Kingston 125). This shows the reader that Moon Orchid does not agree fully with the ways of the American culture, but she is being pushed into it anyway.
Overall, both American culture and Chinese culture have many differences. Throughout the story, Moon Orchid is thrown into the American social culture and is expected to pick it up immediately. Although as the reader knows, it is hard to fit into a culture that you have never been apart of. Moon Orchid tries her best to adapt, whereas Brave Orchid and her children have a hard time understanding why she doesn’t not fit in right away.
What other quotes from the book show differences in cultural views? Either through the relationship between Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid, the childrens characteristics, marital views, or any other encounter in the text.
In what ways do the names ‘Brave Orchid’ and ‘Moon Orchid’ add to or contradict the character traits of each of woman?
Hong Kingston, Maxine. The Woman Warrior: Memoir Of A Girl Among Ghosts. New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 1989. Pp. 113-160.