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Storytelling and Tradition a Comparison of Maus and the Woman Warrior

Essay by review  •  November 8, 2010  •  Essay  •  2,733 Words (11 Pages)  •  1,614 Views

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The stories Maus and The Woman Warrior that we read this semester seem very different from each other, but I think that they both contain similarities and can be contrasted readily. The Woman Warrior by Maxing Hong Kingston like Maus by Art Spiegelman deals with storytelling and tradition derived from racial issues. These books are not merely based on race though. Culture, identity, language, heritage, history, and discrimination are all components in the compositions of Maus and The Woman Warrior. The races, beliefs, and struggles of the characters in these books are very different, but can be similar at times. Cultural disparities run rampant in these books and are the cause of much suffering and struggle. In one book, you have traditional Chinese values clashed with American culture and in the other you have Nazis trying to exterminate the Jewish race. In both cases, culture is being destroyed and the characters are forced to adapt to the world around them. These books also involve family issues heavily. Both of the books have strong parent-child relationships as their backbone. The old teach the young and the young, in turn, teach the old. The lessons learned range in content from heritage to genocide and are powerful messages to be heard by people of all races and religions.

The culture of the groups of people in these stories, derive from their environment and also the tradition of their families. The daughter in The Woman Warrior is a product of an American society, but she is taught by the person closest to her, her mother, ideas and values that contrast greatly with what the outside world is telling her. Her mother tells her stories that can hardly be determined as truth half the time, but all contain the messages derived of a strict Chinese culture. An example of how Brave Orchid's culture clashes with American culture can be displayed by the time when she sends her daughter to the drug store to ask for candy as reparation, because a delivery boy came to their house with pills that were meant for a different Chinese family. Brave Orchid said to her daughter, "You get reparation candy. You say, 'You have tainted my house with sick medicine and must remove the curse with sweetness.' He'll understand." Brave Orchid is used to a world where people try to make up for their mistakes even when they don't have to rather than just ignoring the affects their mistakes have on others. In Maus, Art's father is not so much at odds culturally with the outside world, but his experiences are so much different that it is almost like he has his own culture that is understood only by those who survived the Holocaust. Vladek looks at things differently than most people. Vladek has seen things such as children being swung by the legs like baseball bats into a wall until they died. He has seen families ripped apart and countless cold-blooded murders. All of these things were caused by the Nazis. You could say that the Nazi's created Vledek's culture for him. Vladek has seen the most evil and horrible capabilities of human beings. This sets him apart from most people. This is what makes him cherish every piece of food on his plate at every meal and save every piece of rope or random junk that he finds, because he knows that if worse comes to worse again you have to be prepared. So, for the parents in these books, a dramatic past shapes their culture and this culture they pass on to their children through stories and tradition.

Through the stories in this book, an identity is created in the characters, one that reflects their past. In the case of Art Spiegelman and his father, their identities are that of a race that has incurred terrible tragedy. This fact is branded on them for life and it is a part of who they are. The Holocaust had a tremendous impact on Vladek, as did its story on Art. To survive an attempted genocide upon ones race would instill things like fear, hatred, and caution into ones identity. These traits can become a traditional presence in ones belief system by parents teaching their children these things. To have your father go through the Holocaust would certainly affect the way you view the world and teach your children. I would think that distrust would be the most noticeably present trait in a Jewish person whose relatives were affected by the Holocaust. This distrust and any other Holocaust-generated traits will most likely continue to be passed on to future generations of Jews for years. In relation to The Woman Warrior, a cultural identity is passed down to a daughter from her mother through the mediums of storytelling and tradition. The girls' mother is Brave Orchid. Brave Orchid is always telling her daughter stories that are often far fetched. Whether they are real or not though, they tell of a culture far different from anything the daughter has ever witnessed in America. These stories give the daughter an identity that stems from traditional Chinese culture. The daughter identifies herself as a woman warrior through the summation of these stories and her own personal feelings towards them. She learns about the submissive Chinese woman that is not supposed to talk or even think for herself. Kingston rejects this persona and connects more to the story of Fa Mu Lan, who was legendary Chinese woman who took her father's place in battle. Speaking of her mother, the Chinese daughter said, "She said I would grow up a wife and a slave, but she taught me the song of the warrior woman, Fa Mu Lan. I would have to grow up a warrior woman." Fa Mu Lan was the daughter's hero, the female she most identified with, and figuratively speaking, the person she would grow up to be. Another interesting part of the book which might be a guess on my part but seems reasonable is that Orchid's daughter's name is never revealed. We assume that the daughter is Maxine Kingston herself but this is never spelled out for us. I believe that the reason for this is an attempt by Maxine to pay respect to her dead aunt by remaining nameless herself. Kingston does not believe in the Chinese values that led to her aunt's death. She has an attitude of sympathy for what happened to her aunt. Her connection with her aunt is that she too is judged by the same perverse, sexist beliefs that ruined her aunt, but rather than having a whole village against her, it is her own mother who passes judgment. So, if the main character is indeed Maxine Kingston, then she portrays herself as a no-name woman just like her aunt, but the difference is that Kingston has an identity of her own and a voice that she is not afraid to use.

Language plays an important role in Maus and in The Woman Warrior. The languages involved in Maus are English and German, whereas the languages involved in The Woman Warrior are English and Chinese. Language is an important part of tradition and also in the stories

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