ôA Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipeö
The fifth chapter of Maxine Hong KingstonÆs disturbing but fascinating autobiographical book, The Woman Warrior(essentially a long description of encounters between the girl and her mother(is the most vivid of all. In it, she manages to characterize herself, her mother, Chinese girls in general, and the mentality of immigrants to America in the fifties. Although the book seems to be a blend of fact, fiction, and fantasy, the compelling fifth chapter brings forth some unforgettable incidents and ties up some loose ends for the authorÆs character.
The difference between Chinese and American cultures was quite marked in the fifties, and concepts that seemed normal to Americans were alien to a little Chinese girl. She seemed not to have a self of her own but to just be a shadow in the background, with no personal significance. The embarrassing incident where she had to go back to the drugstore and ask for candy to satisfy her motherÆs Chinese superstition clearly delineates how out of place an immigrant can feel in the midst of a culture that is predicated on completely different values and beliefs.
One of the most graphic points in the chapter is where the mother confesses that she cut the membrane of her tongue so that she would not be tongue-tied. This admission(which I found only slightly less horrifying than the mutilation in Sybil(gives the girl a plausible explanation for the difficulty she has always had in communicating. All Chinese-American girls seemed rather quiet, but she seemed to have an especially difficult time. She wanted to talk but couldnÆt, and in fact flunked kindergarten due to her refusal to speak. When she encounters another girl in school with the same quiet personality, she hates her. Given the opportunity, she at one point torments the girl mercilessly and then suffers 18 months of an unidentifiable illness that appears to be divine retribution for ...