A person’s identity cannot be given to them, instead a person must achieve a sense of her character through personal experience and self search. In “No Name Woman”, Maxine Hong Kingston recalls the events of her aunt’s life in the elusive world of her Chinese roots. The story of her aunt is told by her mother and Kingston recreates the events into an exploratory story to help herself figure out what part of her existence is Chinese and help her better understand the Chinese culture.
By retelling her aunt’s story, Kingston seeks to incorporate both her Chinese and American identities and mold them into her own individual identity. Kingston, a first generation American, finds that as a result of her cultural heritage and current surroundings, it is extremely difficult in resolving her identity. She is a product of a very strong Chinese culture growing up in American and so her identity becomes multifaceted. In attempting to resolve who she is and her cultural roots, she discovers that her identity is characterized in relation to her Chinese identity, her American environment, and the combinations therein.
In the opening scene of the story, the audience is immediately presented with a tragic story within a story. The events viewed in retrospect through the eyes of the narrator’s traditional conservative mother seem skewed and moralistic, delivered in an instructive voice. The mother’s speech is purely didactic. She is telling this story to Kingston to teach a lesson; never do what your aunt has done and do not bring shame upon the family name.
Instead of clearly accepting this tale, Kingston has a hard time believing and consenting to her mother’s message.
Although Kingston is to never speak of the aunt and pretend that the aunt never existed, she disobeys her mother and comes up with a speculative version of events in retelling her aunt’s story. Kingston’s story seeks meaning in the Chinese culture system in order to strengthen her individual identity. It also shows that certain aspects of the people and traditions of a cultural background can be disturbing at times. “To be a woman, to have a daughter in starvation time was enough… Women in the old China did not choose .
The Chinese community that held the most meaning for Kingston’s cultural identity had been lost somewhere in the past. The only knowledge Kingston has of anything Chinese had come from her mother, but that was not enough for her. She has only vague memories and imaginations of such a community that serve as a backdrop for the goal she seeks in strengthening her identity in relation to her ancestral and cultural makeup. For Kingston, she had become separated from part of her heritage.
She struggled in attempting to understand the meaning of this heritage in a world that is different from the older generations. She illustrates this confusion and difficulty in attempting to understand her cultural roots when she says, “Chinese Americans, when you try to understand what things in you are Chinese, how do you separate what is peculiar to childhood, to poverty, insanities, one family, your mother who marked your growing with stories, from what is Chinese? What is Chinese and what is the movies? (Kingston 5)”.
Kingston wants to tap into this old world her parents and ancestors belong to in order to better understand how she became who she is, but this world is so vague to her. As a result, she seeks a medium through which she can more closely relate to her cultural roots and therefore strengthen her own identity. Kingston accomplished this through knowledge of her female relatives lives’ in China so that she may better understand their role in the community and how they were affected by this role, more precisely, she examined the life of her aunt the outcast of her family.
Kingston uses differences and similarities in the three separate narratives to explore the mores of traditional Chinese culture, the differences between Chinese culture and American culture, and ultimately to condemn the traditional roles of women in a Chinese society. Clearly, the disparate narratives of her mother, aunt, and narrator all reveal a different viewpoint on Chinese culture. The mother is clearly supportive of the aunt’s finale fate and symbolizes the traditional view of women in society. The story her mother tells is extremely clear-cut and black and white.