No Name Woman : An Explorative Essay

  Maxine Hong Kingston’s No Name Woman is a dramatic non-fiction story depicting the hard times she has learned about and endured though her Chinese heritage. Kingston has listened to her “relatives talk story… recollections of myths, fables, and Chinese history.”(Martin, 2) Kingston’s writings are very powerful, simply because she does not hide the truth, no matter how negatively it reflects on her own culture. She is exposing her own heritage, and in essence, part of where she came from. No Name Woman is a philosophical treatise through strong comparisons between western and Chinese culture. The no name woman is Kingston’s aunt that has shamed her family; she is not spoken of because the villagers and her family felt she committed an atrocity against them. The villagers make it a ritual of not mentioning her name for fear of angering the Gods. The villagers even go as far as to refer to Kingston’s aunt as a ghost and her unborn child as a pig. These newly appointed names the villagers use, are very ironic in the sense that, at the end of the story Kingston’s aunt will become a legend and a ghost in one sense. Kingston uses the story of the No Name Woman to educate people on the oppression women suffered at the hands of men and fellow villagers as well as the example one woman was to become, due to harsh treatment, and ignorance, although the effects of oppression never do subside they tend to feed on the lack of morals conveyed by everyone.
   Kingston’s No Name Women, portrays a woman whose life is on the brink of oppression. Her name has been taken away from her. Kingston tries to give the reader insight into this troublesome character from the way her villagers used as an example. The no name woman was born into a society in which women were expected to do as they are told and to not question it, “women in old China did not choose.”(Bogarad, 940) Women did not have to the right to choose who and when they would wed.  Families during this time period had arranged marriages, “…when the family found a young man in the next village to be her husband…” (Bogarad, 940) The woman had absolutely no control over her destiny, or the ability to choose who she wanted to ultimately be with. The responsibility of taking care of her was passed from being controlled by her family, to being controlled by her husband who on the night they made love, left the very next day for the Americas. Men in old china were considered much more valuable then women, which in part is the reason why they were allowed to travel to the Americas while their wives where left behind to tend to the property. Kingston “reflects the history of Chinese American people, where the women were excluded from immigrating to the United States.”(Martin, 36)
   Mother’s of daughters in villages close to where Kingston’s ancestors lived, all know the story of the no name woman and would use her story as an example to their daughters, to not go out and shame the family, otherwise, to be prepared to suffer the consequences of being deserted by all that know them. The no name woman became unspoken of publicly, but privately was discussed. Kingston’s mother notes that “you have begun to menstruate”. (Bogarad, 939) Her mother uses the story of her aunt to encourage Kingston not to make the same mistake and to also not think that “what happened to her could not happen to you” (Bogarad, 939).
   The No Name Woman was dealt with unusually harsh treatment. Kingston feels that it was unjust how her aunt was judged and basically exiled. Kingston wants to learn about the “clothes my aunt wore” (Bogarad, 940). Kingston also questioned that “what was Chinese tradition and what is in the movies.”(Bogarad, 940) These last few lines give the reader insight into the fact that Kingston disagrees with what she has been told. Kingston feels it is unfair that her aunt was treated the way she was due to the fact that she became pregnant during a bad season, compared to how wasteful everyone else was being giving sacrifices of food to Gods. Kingston’s mother recalls events from when their house was ransacked; everything that wasn’t completely destroyed was taken and kept it “to bless themselves.”(Bogarad, 939)
   The villagers relinquished any type of reasoning and subsided to complete ignorance. Kingston feels that the people of her village needed someone to blame for the bad omen they received on their crop. The issue was never the fact that the baby was born out wedlock, as much as the fact that the baby would be another mouth to feed. Kingston knows this because “If my aunt had betrayed the family at a time of large grain yields and peace, when many boys were born, and wings were being built on many houses, perhaps she might have escaped such severe punishment.”(Bogarad, 943) Kingston also feels that fellow villagers were ignorant, because the food they gave to the Gods for sacrifice and the animals the villagers destroyed at her house could have all been used to help everyone in the village. Another reason Kingston refuses to take the side of disowning her aunt is because, she feels that her aunt was rapped. Kingston alludes to this by saying “My aunt could not have been the lone romantic who gave up everything for sex. Women in old China did not choose. Some man had commanded her to lie with him and be his secret evil. I wondered whether he masked himself when he joined the raid on her family.”(Bogarad, 940)  Kingston also alludes to the fact that her aunt might have been raped numerous times. The man told her aunt that if she told anyone he would” beat you. I’ll kill you. Be here again next week.” (Bogarad, 940) Kingston notes that Chinese woman did not have a choice during those times. Kingston also felt that the same man that raped her aunt probably had day to day dealings with her. Throughout the story Kingston proves again and again, that Chinese men think that Chinese women are nothing more than a mere novelty and do not respect them at all. Chinese men think women are here for them to command and hit if not they are not satisfied. Kingston feels that these Chinese norms are so deeply rooted in her heritage that she still senses them now, in a different country.
   The No Name Woman was a mere example of the effects of oppression.When her parents sit down and talk of “outcast table.” (Bogarad, 940)Kingston feels that her Chinese culture is twisted and contorted into something very ugly and obscure. Kingston revels in the fact that men were allowed to “go out onto the road” (Bogarad, 941) while woman were left to stay home alone and if they even wore attractive clothes, they were frowned upon. Kingston’s aunt was the only daughter of five children, and very spoiled because she was the only girl. Once Kingston’s aunt left her family she was left with nothing more but a memory, her new husband has left her to go to the Americas. Kingston felt maybe she was drove to another man.  If her aunt’s husband had been there, a lot of the burden of taking care of there home could have been divided. Kingston also mentions that her aunt kept the man who impregnated her secret, she feels that it could have been a man in her aunts “own household”.(Bogarad, 943) Kingston feels that if the child had been born in more prosperous times, the punishment would not have been so cruel and so final.
   . Finally the lack of moral displayed by everyone cannot help but make a tragic story. The fact that many people speak of the no name woman is ironic in the sense that she never had a name to speak of, yet everyone talks about her privately. Kingston feels that she has joined in on the punishment of her aunt. The fatal blow wasn’t the fact that they raided the house, but more the fact that the last people her aunt confided in. turned against her and purposely forgot her. Kingston notes that her family made sure that even in death her aunt would suffer. She would never receive gifts for the afterlife.
Kingston feels that ultimately her aunt did have the last laugh, by drowning herself in the villages drinking water supply. Supplies in the village were already low and with one more source of drinking water depleted, more villagers will perish. To this day her aunt is no longer called the no name woman, she has a new name, “the drowned one.”(Bogarad, 945) Most of villagers believe she waits at the well to “pull down a substitute.”(Bogarad, 945) With this new title her aunt became new legend, because to this day the villagers still live in fear of her.
   Kingston uses the story of the No Name Woman to educate people on the oppression women suffered at the hands of men and fellow villagers as well as the example one woman was to become, due to harsh treatment, and ignorance, although the effects of oppression never do subside, they tend to feed on the lack of morals conveyed by everyone. The No Name Woman is very tragic in the sense that, when it comes to family pride, blood is not always thicker. It is also tragic that in times where you need those around you the most, you can be abandoned. Although what is even more tragic is the fact that ignorance is bliss, and more people do not care what or who they hurt in the process.

Works Cited

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