The Woman Warrior: Shaman & At the Western Palace

December 6, 2010

The enormous difference in Maxine’s mother lies in her lack of better acculturation to American society. It is almost as if she is polarized in her perceptions of life in America. To her, most Americans are “ghosts”, a term she seems to apply to mythical creatures, animals and real people.

In “Shaman” we get a picture of a very independent, bright woman who studied to become a midwife and a doctor of sorts. She is treated with the upmost respect in her village, where her reputation as a healer grows with time. Curiously, Brave Orchid mentions that she would not treat those who were dying, a fact which might have contributed to her “success” rate. In this chapter, there is a vivid description of how she rid her medical school of a troublesome “ghost”; she still retained her ghost-fighting ability, but we never know if these stories, like others, are talk-stories and do not have a basis in reality. She is learning Western medicine, but she still is clinging to Chinese traditions. She also reveals the unsavory fact that she had purchased a female slave.

In “At the Western Palace”, we get a very different image of Brave Orchid. This highly qualified person is now doing rather “menial” jobs, like running a laundry or picking
tomatoes and potatoes. She works very long hours in the heat. Her relationship with her children is not too good. This is the first chapter in which her children are referred to, rather disparagingly. They seem to want nothing to do with China at all. When she brings her sister, Moon Orchid to the states, she is shocked to see that the sister is so “old”. She stubbornly maintains that her sister is the only wife to be acknowledged in the old Chinese tradition. The culminating point of this chapter, I think, is when the brother- in-law calls them “grandmothers” before he finally recognizes who they are. He doesn’t want anything to do with Moon Orchid and tells them to leave. Both sisters have now become the “ghosts”.

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