The Struggle within the Sword: Maxine Hong Kingston's Fight for an Identity through the Legend of Mu Lan in her memoir, The Woman Warrior

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Arts and Humanities | Communication | English Language and Literature | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Jessica Harkins, English; Jennifer Kramer, Communications


The art of storytelling is an age-old practice used to pass down cultural practices and beliefs. Maxine Hong Kingston, a Chinese American writer, uses this form through her re-telling of the legend of Mu Lan as a means to share her personal worldview. As a storyteller, in transforming stories from their original form, both the identities of her characters (as well as her own) deepen in significance and relativity as she transforms the legends into something of her own. Throughout her memoir, The Woman Warrior, Kingston continuously questions what it means to grow up Chinese American. She references Chinese myths and legends, Western mythology, as well as both Chinese and American practices in contradiction with each other as she attempts to form a cohesive depiction of herself in relation to the world around her. This narrative form allows Kingston to address important issues that can be more easily shared and understood through the mode of storytelling, thus giving her the voice she needs in order to explore the identity she attempts to solidify. Through literary analysis of Kingston's "White Tigers" chapter, the layered contradictions between Chinese and American culture become apparent through her narrative form, examples of Chinese and American perspectives as well as stories from her own life. In addition, the application of communication's cultural identity and standpoint theories help trace key aspects of Kingston's identity development. In solidifying her own identity, she raises her sword to fight injustice and challenges her readers to reconsider their own worldviews.