Mar 23, 2008

Cutting Loose the Tongue: a dialogue

As a feminist icon and peace activist, Maxine Hong Kingston is one of my personal heroines. Coming from working-class family with a ghostly, yet rigid worldview, I feel that Kingston is a kindred spirit in the quest to unearth one's genuine voice.

In her first work of prose, “The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts,” she reveals through an intricate web of reality, fiction, and fable how she struggled to find her uniquely powerful identity.

In one section of the book, “A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe,” Kingston tries to understand why she feels the violent need to be heard. She tells of when her mother confesses to Maxine that she “cut [her tongue] so that you would not be tongue-tied”. She is unsure by what her mother means, because her mother often uses a sort of “talk story” to convey a truth, rather than fact. But Maxine feels very tongue-tied by her Chinese ancestry, by her mother’s talk story, and by being a female American. She cannot articulate the things inside or outside of her body. “Even the good things are unspeakable, so how could I ask about deformities?”

(To be continued...)

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