Maxine Hong Kingston Essays Online

The story by Maxine Hong Kingston is a breath-taking description of her personal life experience and one of peculiar methods used by Chinese people to prevent their children from being ‘tongue-tied’. This method was aimed at removing the possibility of children struggling with speaking languages other than Chinese. A little Chinese girl, who is the protagonist of the story, had a difficult experience related to being ‘tongue-tied’ that challenged all her childhood years growing in the USA and trying to start speaking English. The difficulties this girl had to come through made her recall those years as the period of her always being silent since it was difficult for her to adjust to the new surroundings. Thus, the most important aspect of the story ‘Tongue-Tied’ written by Maxine Hong Kingston that is analyzed in the paper is connected to highlighting the issue of adjusting to a new culture and society.

Critique of 'Tongue-Tied' by Maxine Hong Kingston

In the story ‘Tongue-tied’, Kingston presents a detailed personal life experience with the language barrier she had growing up as Chinese American. The start and the ending of the story are quite sudden and take some time to understand. It uses a deductive way of presenting information beginning with a short introduction to one of the aspects of Chinese culture and then explaining the evidence based on it. The story starts with a little girl trying to understand why her mother cut the frenum on her tongue. The girl heard her mother saying that it was done to ensure she does not have problems speaking other languages in future. However, she tries to compare herself to other children that did not have this done to them, but she still cannot answer the question whether it helped her at all taking into account her major problems speaking English. It takes away the girl’s confidence and affects the process of her adaptation to the American culture. She is always quiet and hardly ever talks to anyone but her family and some Chinese children. Speaking English and hearing her voice stresses her and makes her very unhappy about the noises that come out of her throat. She does not seem to be able to overcome the challenge of speaking new language and socializing with other. Furthermore, the ending of the story is also sudden and quite abrupt. Mentioning the girl’s little gain when she manages to speak loudly in the class, the author contrasts it with another girl who whispers. This little detail has a hidden meaning that demonstrates the similarity of the problem for other Chinese people who live in this country.   

The author has a unique writing style that is expressed in describing everything from the point of view of a little girl who she was back then when the story took place. Reading the story makes a reader see and comprehend everything that was happening with the girl’s eyes. It builds a special attachment between the protagonist and the readers, especially those who had a chance to understand for themselves how difficult it is to adjust to a new surrounding and start speaking another language. The author cleverly used a comparison that was proving that both Negro students and Chinese students did not have the same rights as others. She calls these groups of students ‘Black Ghosts’ and ‘Ghost’ respectively in order to show that they are absolutely not like others.

Contradiction of American and Chinese worlds is one of the main features of the story. This aspect explains the feelings of foreigners when they try to adapt to new conditions. The story demonstrates how not easy it is to comprehend the difference between the values of two cultures and lifestyles on the example of the little girl. She has noticed that her silence must have something to do with being Chinese since other Chinese kids did not speak much in the American school either. However, when the Chinese children were meeting at the Chinese school in the evenings, almost all of them became different. They way they were behaving, screaming, and talking loudly to each other showed that they felt much more confident in their native surrounding amongst their Chinese peers. Even the girl found herself talking to others and participating in school activities more when she was surrounded with Chinese kids in their little Chinese community in the USA. Thus, the author shows that being such a young age, the girl was already able to make relevant conclusions on the difficult issues like the cultural difference and the problems with adjusting to the new society.

The way Kingston describes all events makes it understandable that she felt very different from the American students but accepted everything. She did not negatively react to the mocking from other children. In fact, the girl was quite detached and independent which is very impressing for such a young kid. Kingston mentions the teachers excluding her and other Chinese children from the activities that all the rest of students were participating in. And again, the author does not express jealousy or sorrow because of being treated differently. She presents it just like a fact that was expected to happen since they were different to American children. Furthermore, mentioning the pictures that the girl painted black at school, the author gives another hint on how unhappy and confused she must have been. Her internal world has always been searching for the correct path in between Chinese and American worlds.

Interestingly enough, Kingston’s story is quite emotionless in the way that strong emotions like sadness or this girl’s feelings of being rejected by the society are not present. I suppose it is because of the modesty and unpretentiousness traditional to the Asian culture. Children are taught to be quite reserved and accept the life the way it is with its problems and hardships. That is why this little girl does not complain or describe her sufferings from being in a foreign environment. Additionally, her family does not participate much in her social life at school and kindergarten because of the language barrier and probably other reasons too. Apparently, this factor contributes to the girl acting like an adult that understands everything and has courage to carry on. She has no choice but to tolerate everything the way it is and stand for herself.


Therefore, the story by Maxine Hong Kingston presents an extremely interesting narrative about something that happened in real life. The way the author describes her feelings and everything that she had to go through while trying to adjust to American society is a perfect guide for the readers to understand what it was like. Thus, it is easy to imagine yourself on the place of the little scared and confused girl who has always felt different from the rest of kids. Moreover, the story contradicts Chinese and American cultures demonstrating how difficult it was for the little girl to adapt to the new culture. Even though the girl has never shown her real emotions or expressed how stressful it was for her, her internal world was in the state of constant contradiction. The words chosen by the author and her writing style make it very engaging to read. Moreover, the naïve feelings clearly described by the author from her childhood memories in the USA make the story absolutely trustworthy and believable.


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Example Summary Essay

English 102

Assignment: Write a brief summary (2 pages maximum) of “No Name Woman,” an excerpt from Maxine Hong Kingston’s memoir Woman Warrior.

[Instructor comments appear in bold, italic font within brackets below.]

Summary of “No Name Woman”

The essay “No Name Woman,” by Maxine Hong Kingston, was written in 1975. Kingston’s mother tells her a story about a family secret, which is never supposed to be spoken of again. [Good introduction of author and text] It has been forgotten by her family for many years. [You might explain that it was deliberately and publicly “forgotten.” Obviously, Kingston’s mother didn’t really forget it.] It is a secret about Kingston’s aunt who mysteriously gets pregnant, kills her baby, and herself when it is born. Kingston ponders about what happened, with whom, and why this had happened to her aunt, because she will get no more answers, not even her aunt’s name.

The story begins with Kingston’s mother telling her about seventeen weddings in 1924 which were held to make sure that the men who left to America would come back to their homes to take care of their wives and responsibilities. After Kingston’s aunt’s husband had left for many years, her aunt became pregnant. Maxine’s mother and the village realized her aunt had committed adultery, because it was not possible for her aunt to have been pregnant by her husband after he had been gone for so many years. Kingston’s mother told her that the night the baby was born the villagers raided their house. The villagers threw eggs, rocks, and mud at their house. They slaughtered their livestock, and smeared blood all over their walls and doors, ruining their house. When they left, the raiders took many of their possessions and objects to bless themselves. Later that night, Kingston’s aunt gave birth to the baby and took its life in the morning, drowning herself and her child in the family well. Her family forgot she ever existed after this, and her father denies he even ever had a sister. Kingston ponders if her aunt was forced to have sex with someone she worked with or bought products from in the market, [if the father of the baby was] someone she was just having sex with, or if the father was her secret lover. Kingston also imagines how her aunt felt when she was having the baby and what she was thinking and feeling before she killed herself. Kingston ponders and tries to imagine what happened to her aunt because she cannot ask her family or her mother any more about what happened; they do not speak of her. Kingston says her aunt haunts her because she is telling everyone about her suicide after her aunt had been forgotten for fifty years.

Instructor end comment:

[This is a very clearly written summary of a tough text. You cover the main ideas, stay neutral, and omit unnecessary details, which is key. You might have mentioned the reason why Kingston’s mother told her the story, however, as well as some of the inferences Kingston makes about why the village punished her aunt: the low value of women in that poor village, how it would have been perceived for a woman to break the rules of society and give birth to an illegitimate child who would need food when food was scarce, etc. Of course, making a summary complete while staying brief is always a tricky balancing act. Though you might have weighed in too heavily on the side of brevity, you did quite a nice job over all.]

** Minor mechanical errors/typos have been corrected by the creators of CHARLIE

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