The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

The Woman Warrior, p. 13:
“The round moon cakes and round doorways, the round tables of graduated sizes that fit one roundness inside another, round windows and rice bowls—these talismans had lost their power to warn this family of the law: a family must be whole, faithfully keeping the descent line by having sons to feed the old and the dead, who in turn look after the family. The villagers were speeding up the circling of events because she was too shortsighted to see that her infidelity had already harmed the village, that waves of consequences would return unpredictably, sometimes in disguise, as now, to hurt her. This roundness had to be made coin-sized so that she would see its circumference: punish her at the birth of her baby. Awaken her to the inexorable. People who refused fatalism because they could invent small resources insisted on culpability. Deny accidents and wrest fault from the stars.”
Kingston discusses the punishment the village exacted on her aunt in this passage. References to circles, to roundness cannot be ignored, as they are stacked one upon the other, upon the other, as in the phrase “round moon cakes”. The moon is round, the cakes are round, and in case you didn’t notice, they’re round. Coins, pregnant women, the circling of events, rice bowls, even windows (windows!) are round. The line, “Awaken her to the inexorable”, begins the articulation of Kingston’s message about this, the articulation of why now, after fifty years, she is writing about this unnamed aunt in her memoir. She tells us that she never asked for more detail than her mother gave her, never asked her name, certainly didn’t try to bring this ghost into the light, because the “waves of consequences” are too great when individual sins are not individual sins at all, but are crimes against the community and all it stands for. It’s significant that she refers to her aunt as “no name woman” because names signify our individuality and it was her aunt’s individuality (whether asked for or forced upon her) that pushed her outside of the circle of the village. In the last two sentences of this passage, Kingston muses on fate and free will, ideas crucial to her recurring theme of the individual pitted against the expectations of their society. Her aunt is a “ghost”, treated by her brother as if she never existed because of some accident. Whether it was through her own vanity or vulnerability, she certainly did not intend to get pregnant, the ironic roundness that pushed her out of the circle. And Kingston writes, “Deny accidents and wrest fault from the stars”, suggesting that there is more to blame in those who judge strictly, mercilessly, than in those who make mistakes.

 

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