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Raised in Stockton, California Maxine Kingston writes a memoir of the struggles she encountered while growing up Chinese- American, in the first chapter "No Name Women," Kingston struggles with her mother's talk story about her dead aunt who's shameful pregnancy, led to her being forgotten about and now having no name and no identity. Fearing that one day she could be rejected like her aunt, Kingston struggled to find her own identity by defying Chinese traditions, voicing her opinion and defining whether having a collective identity was more important than personal identity.
Although Kingston did not always agree with her mother's value and beliefs, she struggles to understand why this happened to her aunt and how this talk story played into her Chinese-American upbringing. No Name Women disgraced not only her family, but the villagers who also lived amongst her, her pregnancy enraged the village because she broke the roundness and the unity that they all shared. Never speaking of how her pregnancy came to being, she never was able to tell her side of the story. Women in China did not have a voice, nor did they get to choose. As Kingston states, "Women in the old China did not chooseâ€¦ The other man was not, after all, much different from her husband: They both gave orders: she followed" (pg 5-6). Kingston's Aunt did not have a choice of whether to lay with the man who impregnated her, because women did what they were told. For Kingston her aunt's story invoked anger and frustration, Kingston did not want to be like her aunt who's silence led to her demise, she wanted her opinions to be valued and she wanted her voice to be heard.
Unlike some countries, America is more accepting of others; adultery would not have the same consequences here as they did in China. American society is all about what is good for the individual; privacy is much more acceptable and tolerated. In a time of great depression and hardship, villagers believed that having a private life would taint the family descent line which they strived to keep whole. The villagers believed everything done should benefit the entire community or punishment would be sought. "The villager's punished her for acting as if she could have a private life, secret and apart from them" (page 13). Kingston was often riddled with guilt by listening to the talk stories her mother Brave Orchid would tell her. As a straight A student who did well in school, Kingston thought her academic success was an achievement for both her and her family, yet her mother Brave Orchid viewed her success as a personal achievement that would not benefit them but her future husbands family. This idea fueled Kingston's decision to defy her mother's traditions and beliefs while growing up.
Throughout Kingston's memoir, silence played a major role, in the very first chapter one can see that her aunt's silence from the beginning of her pregnancy until her suicide played a pivotal role in setting the tone for the entire memoir. Disturbed by her aunt's silence, Kingston soon realized that if she wanted to be remembered, she would need to let her voice be heard. Often infuriated by Brave Orchids constant reminder to "never tell" and her "talk stories," Kingston fears that she could one day be disowned and forgotten about like her aunt. It was her aunts silence that kept her from being remembered, fearing this throughout her life she defies her mother's Chinese traditions and beliefs by making her own rules. Baffled by the fact that Brave Orchid always reminded her to be silent, Kingston found that many Chinese immigrants were loud, unlike the first generation Chinese Americans who were soft spoken. Kingston recalls as a child she tried to change her image to become more like Americans. "Walking erect and speaking in an inaudible voice, I have tried to turn myself American-feminine" (page 11). She does not want to conform the ways of the average Chinese immigrants; Kingston wants to be separate apart from the rest.
As Kingston struggles to create her own identity, the single acknowledgment Kingston gives her aunt, show's that she had succeeded in creating her own unique identity separate from her mother and the villagers. Showing her Rebellion in telling this forbidden story of her aunt, Kingston has not only broken that family wholeness but she has let out her family secrets. "My aunt haunts me- her ghost drawn to me because now, after fifty years of neglect, I alone devote pages of paper to herâ€¦" (pg 16). Although Kingston never really knows how her aunt became pregnant it is not for us not her to pass judgment upon her, for we do not know the cultural struggles and adversities she may have faced living in the village. Realizing that her silence was like her denying the existence of her aunt, Kingston seems to believe that by telling her aunt's story she is giving her aunt a voice, giving her a name and most importantly giving her back her identity. I believe that if you read between the lines of this story you will see that Kingston and her aunt share much in common. Both Kingston and her aunt shared cultural similarities and beliefs yet each had to distinguish which to follow and not to follow.