Question: Why does the mother tell this story to her daughter?
“No Name Woman” is a story that is told to a young woman who has just started receiving her menstrual periods. The story tells of a woman who gets an illegitimate child and commits suicide shortly after the child is born. Apparently, the woman’s husband has been gone for years; thus, villagers are aware that the child is illegitimate. This compels the neighbors to ransack the woman’s family. The villagers destroy the family house, scatter rice, slaughter the livestock, and carry what they can from the family. In reaction to this, the family of the dead woman (she commits suicide) pretends that this woman has never been born. In fact, the mother of the narrator asks her not to tell this story to anyone. This story acts as a warning to the narrator; she is now a woman, and she must never let her aunt’s fate catch her.
Difficulty in the Story
“Whenever she had to warn us about life, my mother told stories that ran like this one….” (Kingston 5). The narrator tells this story to show a clash in two cultures; it is difficult to understand the story in this perspective. The parents of the narrator in the story are immigrants in the American society. Therefore, they are faced by two opposing cultures; the Chinese and the American cultures. In fact, the story refers to a ghost, but it is not clear what the ghost symbolizes. Kingston (16) writes “…her ghost drawn to me because now, after fifty years of neglect, I alone devote pages of paper….” However, to the parents of the narrator, the ghost could refer to the American culture. The parents are integrated in a foreign culture, and they must struggle hard to instill the Chinese culture to their children. Thus, the parents see the American culture as a ghost since it is a barrier to this course. Contrary, the children, including the narrator, view Chinese culture as a ghost; they do not understand this culture, yet they are told to conform to it. For instance, the narrator does not understand the Chinese culture. She tries to understand the reasons as to why the village has to abandon a pregnant woman. The narrator is confused about the values to uphold. The mother tells the narrator about her (narrator’s) aunt, and the narrator can only imagine the things that compelled the aunt to engage in sexual activities. These are some of the problematic things in this story.
The narrator belongs to a Chinese lineage, but she is brought up in America. Therefore, the ideas in this story take an American viewpoint. This can be deduced from the quotation “…the emigrant generations who could not reassert brute survival died young and far from home….” The narrator also refers to an American movie Oh You Beautiful Doll. Therefore, the reader gets confused regarding the perspective to follow in understanding the story; this is problematic. The narrator tries to write from her fears, and she does not succeed in painting the Chinese picture that leads to the aunt’s (and the infant’s) suicide. However, the narrator seems to insinuate that it was very difficult for women growing up in a Chinese culture. They were expected to wait for many years for husbands who went to work in foreign lands. The society discriminated against them since the man involved in the aunt’s pregnancy was not punished. In fact, the villagers did not seek to discover the situation that led to this happening; they just set on the family and destroyed the family house. The narrator even says that, perhaps, the father of the illegitimate child was involved in destroying the house. It is also difficult to understand the reason as to why the aunt had to kill the infant. However, it is probable that the child was a girl, and the aunt did not want her (child) to live in the patronizing Chinese society. “…I found her and the baby plugging up the family well …”. It is also probable that she knew that the child would not be accepted by the society and so she had to jump into the well with the child “…She jumped into the family well”.
Can the narrator ask the mother about the aunt?
The narrator cannot ask the mother about the aunt, and this presents a difficulty in understanding this paper. The mother cannot also add up to the story unless there is a “total necessity” to do so. The narrator can only start by asking, “Remember Father's drowned-in-the-well sister?" However, this name is a taboo to the family, and she cannot do this. Thus, the narrator has to imagine the things that led to the aunt’s pregnancy. She describes two scenarios. In the first scenario, the aunt is raped, and she conceives. In the second scenario, the aunt develops some sexual feelings, and she entices a man who eventually makes her pregnant. However, it is difficult to tell the most probable cause of the narrator’s aunt pregnancy.
The story attempts to answer the questions that the reader raises towards the end of the story. The mother tells this story to the narrator so that she can avoid things that can make her rejected by the Chinese society. The mother vividly recounts the plight of the narrator’s aunt as a warning. The narrator is now an adolescent, and she can become pregnant. The mother seeks to be telling her daughter that pregnancy outside marriage is never acceptable in any Chinese society. Therefore, the narrator must not allow to be lured into the things that can be a disgrace to the family.