Maxine Hong Kingston was not only a noted American Modernist, but her works were also of importance to the feminist movement and immigrants living in the United States. As a first generation Asian American, she knew the societal struggles of both being a woman in America, and being so close, yet so far from her own culture.
Born in Stockton California on October 27th, 1940, Kingston was the first of six children of her mother and father to be born in the United States. Kingston attended the University of California, Berkeley in 1962. It is here that she graduated, earned her BA in English, and found and later married a fellow classmate and father of her son. Kingston also spent most of her life in California, moving to Honolulu Hawaii in 1967 and teaching English at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu for a few years, then moving back to California to teach at Berkeley around the 1980s.
Finding inspiration in other American Modernist like Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, and Virginia Woolf, Kingston was also attributed to helping the feminist movement and civil rights in America with her works like The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts and China Men. She however faced criticism, as many authors do, for tainting traditional Chinese myths and stories to please her audience. Despite the criticisms, Kingston still holds awards like a National Book Critics Circle Award and the American Book Award under her literary belt.
Maxine Hong Kingston’s particular way of standing out from other writers is that it is classified as nonfiction, yet the stories hold myth-like features and somewhat fictional-like personal interpretations/memoirs. Since the story presented in No Name Woman is Kingston’s recollection of a story told by her mother, it is important to pay attention to the vividness, accepted beauty of language, themes, symbols, and any other importance of items that Kingston presents in this nonfictional work. Throughout, one may question the reality of the text, but one must also recall that it is classified as nonfiction.
Finally, bringing a quick introduction to the assigned reading, No Name Woman is Kingston’s retelling of a story her mother told her when she was “coming of age” to be cautious in her actions. The story within the story tells of how Maxine’s aunt (on her father’s side) got pregnant by someone other than her husband, and how the other villagers and family members of the aunt saw this as disgraceful and “gull.” It is important to note however that it is never clear if the child was a boy or girl or if the aunt willingly had illegitimate sex, although there is room for speculation of both that could go either way. In the end of the story within the story (although clearly stated at the beginning) the aunt jumps in the family well with the baby, committing a murder suicide to either save and protect, or escape the shame and solitude she and her baby would have had to face.