1. This chapter, even moreso than the rest of the book, is highly concerned with language, speaking, and storytelling. It begins with a story retold after going through several sources, and ends with a story told by two people. Maxine starts a chapter by calling her take on the Moon Orchid story ‘twisted into designs’, but rejects her mother’s ambiguous, roundabout stories towards end of the text. How do Maxine’s feelings about the art of ‘talking-story’ change or conflict? Do you think she comes to reconcile these two ways of telling stories, or does she pick a side? 

2. This book is highly populated by women considered ‘mad’ or thought of as outsiders in other ways – there is the list of institutionalized women in Maxine’s neighborhood, but there’s also the silent girl in her school, as well as Moon Orchid and the village ‘crazy lady’ from the previous chapters. In what ways does Maxine feel kinship with them, and in what ways is she afraid of them? Are these things connected? What spurs the violence with which she treats the silent girl? 

3. Ts’ai Yen is introduced as a “poetess”, but is also a ‘woman warrior’ – what is the significance of this, considering the importance of talking-story in this book? How does this final story tie into/compare to the Fa Mulan story and the varied other stories of women in this book? How do you interpret the Ts’ai Yen story’s use of the ‘civilized Chinese/barbarian Other’ dichotomy, and what do you think Maxine and/or Kingston says – about gender, language, culture, etc. – by ending her story with this one? 

Katia’s reading questions for September 20

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