The Woman Warrior:A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe

December 8, 2010

I think the theme of silence was very dominant throughout the other chapters and particularly strong in this chapter because this is the one in which we “hear” what was going on in her mind as a child and an adult.
Brave Orchid maintained the family tradition of no speaking during mealtime. In most families, speaking to other family members is encouraged during meals; in fact, it is a prime way of communicating with other members of the family. Dinners are usually convivial events; people get together and in a less tense or formal atmosphere, they can talk to each other. This privilege was not available to Brave Orchid or to her daughters. In the last chapter, Maxine decides to tell her mother about things she has done and even calculates how much time it will take her. Suddenly, during one meal, Maxine gets up and all her grievances come tumbling out of her mouth. Maxine herself was amazed at how clear her speech was and compared herself to the entertainer she had seen in Chinatown. If was as if there were an explosion inside Maxine who always had to be silent.
Silence and speech difficulties come up different times in the chapter. First, there is the horrific story, if it was true, of Brave Cloud cutting Maxine’s tongue very early in her life. We never get the real reason why; sometimes Brave Cloud said she did if for Maxine’s good so she would be able to learn and at other times we see how females were perceived in China as being worthless and having “sharp” tongues. If it was true why was Maxine the only one to get it than her brother and sisters? There is one scene in which Maxine torments the Chinese girl in her class who can recite things, but refuses to speak to anyone. Maxine tries to get her to say “Stop” or “yes” or “no” by tormenting her physically and emotionally. At one time during the attack, Maxine herself starts to cry. Perhaps she was identifying the girl’s silence with her own.
Maxine tells of the trouble she had in speaking intelligibly and says she, at times, had great difficulty in communicating. In addition to being thought of as worthless and having no thoughts of any value, she carried the extra burden of some physical problem which held her back. At the end of the book, Maxine relates the story of a Chinese woman who lived among “barbarians” for a long time. At the end of the story, Maxine relates that the sounds of the songs of the Chinese woman seem to finally mesh with the sound of the Barbarian reed pipe. Perhaps this is symbolic of the two cultures assimilating and Maxine finally finding her “voice.”



One Response to “The Woman Warrior:A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe”

  1.   beverly gross Says:

    this one, like your other entries on this book, is your best yet.

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