In The Woman Warrior, Kingston explores the hardships of growing up in early 19th century American society. Although race is an important factor, gender is an even more prominent element in this story. Kingston descriptions vary in the story, from vague to vivid, depending on the nature of the story she is telling. In juxtaposing her day-to-day troubles with the lives of the women her mother tells her about, Kingston paints a clear picture of the pressures involved with growing up in a Chinese family living in a foreign country and how it shaped her character. “You must not tell anyone.” These words seem to echo in Kingston’s head whenever she thinks of her aunt colloquially known as “No Name Woman”. Although very little is known about her outside of her birthing an illegitimate child, having the family house burn down, and jumping in a well with her newborn infant, Kingston’s imagination extends the story beyond a simple tale about a promiscuous woman. One of her fantasies portrays her aunt as the victim of rape, unable to speak about the incident or explain her sudden pregnancy. Another fantasy depicts her aunt as one who harbors a slowly blossoming passion, attempting to attract a man's attention by carefully tending to her appearance. We never find out which is the truth, nor did the village in which her aunt belonged to, but their reaction was all the same. Considering the sensitivity of the matter, Kingston’s speculation represents a step outside of the traditional norm. Her fantasizing about the events of the past, whether it was an attempt to satisfy herself or to find out what really happened to her aunt, represents a challenge to the concept of the traditional Chinese woman.
The consequences of her aunt’s actions reverberate in Kingston’s head throughout the story, causing her to thoroughly consider her behavior and role in society. Kingston does not accept that her aunt was an open woman, but clearly the story plays an important role in her life. She believes that it was wrong for her aunt to give in to her sexual desires. However, the reason she believes it was wrong is because it caused an uproar, threatening village stability and order. In reality, it seems as though she would like to go on dates and socialize, but the image of her aunt’s ghost wandering hopelessly asking other ghosts for some of their food seems too powerful to shake. Consequently, she fears being too attractive.
The story of the woman warrior is a less touchy subject. She is someone Kingston could freely aspire to – someone who was not the traditional Chinese wife – without the fear of being criticized. Still however, gender comes into play, as the only reason Mu Lan was not criticized is because she did it “for family”. This aspect of the traditional Chinese woman entails even someone as great as the mythical woman warrior. Despite this, Kingston regards her with nothing but admiration. Sayings like “Girls are maggots in the rice.” and “It is more profitable to raise geese than daughters.” depress and anger her. But Mu