1. The first words of Kingston’s memoir are “‘You must not tell anyone,’ my mother said, ‘what I am about to tell you.” There is something significant in her choice to make that line the very first line in a memoir that of course does reveal the story of Kingston’s aunt, which is exactly what her mother wanted to keep secret. Is this line simply a literary choice by Kingston, to emphasize that her memoir is going to recount events that she hasn’t previously shared anywhere? Or is Kingston saying something bigger about culture here–either American culture or Chinese culture–by starting off with a command like this one from her Chinese immigrant mother?

2. What do you make of the way that Kingston quickly slips into the story of the woman warrior? At one moment she is talking about how her mother would tell stories, and then suddenly the reader is inside one such story with no warning or transition. It is almost alike to the feeling of falling asleep or having a vision. Is that what Kingston intended? Does she want us as readers to take in the story as if she (as the narrator) is dreaming or having visions?

3. The swordswoman story has an interesting feminist twist. In a couple of places, the old man and woman subtly imply that as a woman, the warrior/narrator character has an advantage over men by nature of being a woman. For example: “Even when you fight against soldiers as trained as you are, most of them will be men, heavy footed and rough. You will have the advantage” (32). What do you think of these feminist undertones (or maybe they’re overtones)? How do you feel about the end of the warrior story? What is the story’s overall message about women? And how do Kingston’s actual experiences, which she recounts after the warrior story, compare and contrast with the warrior story?

Elisabeth’s Reading Questions on The Woman Warrior (pages 1-53)

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