The Woman Warrior: Fiction or Non-Fiction Debate

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Ever since “The Woman Warrior” was first published in 1976 there has been a debate about whether or not it should be classified as a fiction or nonfiction book. Maxine Hong Kingston experimented with genre in her book, the same way she struggled with understanding her background and childhood when she was growing up. Kingston is able to effectively blend these two genres by beginning with nonfiction then transitioning into a fictional version of either a true event or an old Chinese story. The reason that Kingston chooses to include her struggle with understanding the truth is so that the reader can truly understand a common struggle of Asian American women. Overall, I believe that Kingston’s use of genre blending opens the reader’s eyes to what she dealt with growing up. In Maxine Hong Kingston’s “The Woman Warrior” she experiments with the blending of nonfiction and fiction. Depending on your version of the book, it may be labeled as a different genre. Kingston has expressed some discomfort in her work being categorized as an autobiography. Kingston blends fiction and nonfiction in “No Name Woman.” After her mother tells her that she had an aunt in China who after becoming pregnant and giving birth killed herself. Kingston is left with many questions about the ordeal, not even knowing the name of her aunt. Up until this point she uses non fiction in simply explaining what her mother had told her.

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After this, the line between nonfiction and fiction becomes distorted. She enters into hypothetical fantasies about what may have happened to her aunt. She says: “Perhaps she had encountered him in the fields or on the mountain… Or perhaps he had first noticed her in the marketplace… Perhaps he worked in an adjoining field” (Kingston 6). When she is hypothesizing what may have happened to her aunt she uses the word “perhaps” to alert the audience that she isn’t sure of what she is suggesting. After this she goes into a first person narrative where she imagines that her aunt had gotten pregnant from a rape. With this, she has now fully transitioned from nonfiction to fiction while still alerting the reader to this change. After this she switches up her hypothetical when Kingston says: “It could very well have been, however, that my aunt did not take subtle enjoyment of her friend, but, a wild woman, kept rollicking company” (8). She then narrates a different fictional scenario where her aunt had gotten pregnant from a consensual affair. In “White Tigers,” Kingston recalls “the chant of Fa Mu Lan, the girl who took her father’s place in battle” (20). After recalling the inspiration that this story had on her, she then narrates the story of Fa Mu Lan as Kingston was her and in the present tense. Finally, in “Shaman,” Kingston forms her own fictional version of her mother’s journey of assimilation to American culture and receiving medical degrees through actual degrees of her mother and photographs of her. Using real life experiences, Kingston creates fiction from them which creates the blend of fiction and nonfiction which allows the reader to understand the struggle that she dealt with in regards to understanding what was the truth as an Asian American woman.

The motivation behind Kingston’s blending of fiction and nonfiction is to convey how she felt growing up as an Asian American woman. Kingston says: “You lie with stories. You won’t tell me a story and then say, ‘This is a true story,’ or, ‘This is just a story.’ I can’t tell the difference… I can’t tell what’s real and what you make up” (202). In addition, Maya Jaggi in “The Warrior Skylark” describes “The Woman Warrior” as, “Rooted in family memoir and her experience of growing up in California with a Chinese heritage, it crossed cultural boundaries and fused literary genres in startlingly original ways.” Kingston’s book was all about how as a child, everything seemed blended. Culture, truth and heritage may seem like something that can be taken at face value for most people. But for Asian Americans like Kingston, these things take much effort to weave out- if they can be at all. After Frank Chin’s 1991 criticism of Kingston’s “The Woman Warrior” for what he believed to be “restating a white racist stereotype,” Jianping Wang responded with ‘Yet Hong Kingston counters that ‘After all, I am not writing history or sociology but a 'memoir' like Proust' (Cheung 79). Still, there are critics like Chin who imply that Kingston's faulty knowledge of ‘true’ history make her work a false work.” This shows how Kingston’s blending on nonfiction and fiction may be seen as stereotypical to some, but it shows how Kingston truly felt growing up with regards to her heritage.

To conclude, the debate about whether “The Woman Warrior” should be classified as fiction or nonfiction has been going on since the book first was published back in 1976. While Maxine Hong Kingston has expressed some uneasiness in regards to it being categorized as an autobiography, I don’t believe that this or simply as nonfiction or fiction is the appropriate classification for “The Woman Warrior.” The only way I believe to describe the genre of “The Woman Warrior” is to acknowledge the fact that it blends multiple genres and include things such as autobiography and traditional Chinese folk tale. Maxine Hong Kingston effectively blended nonfiction and fiction in “The Woman Warrior” to allow the reader to understand her perspective growing up as an Asian American Woman.

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The Woman Warrior: Fiction or Non-Fiction Debate. (2020, December 28). WritingBros. Retrieved May 29, 2024, from
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