Brave Orchid Quotes in The Woman Warrior
“You must not tell anyone,” my mother said, “what I am about to tell you. In China your father had a sister who killed herself. She jumped into the family well. We say that your father has all brothers because it is as if she had never been born.
After I grew up, I heard the chant of Fa Mu Lan, the girl who took her father’s place in battle…. I had forgotten this chant that was once mine, given me by my mother, who may not have known its power to remind. She said I would grow up a wife and a slave, but she taught me the song of the warrior woman, Fa Mu Lan. I would have to grow up a warrior woman.
But the Communists wear a blue plainness dotted with one red Mao button. My mother wore a silk robe and western shoes with big heels, and she rode home carried in a sedan chair. She had gone away ordinary and come back miraculous, like the ancient magicians who came down from the mountains. “When I stepped out of my sedan chair, the villagers said, ‘Ahhh,’ at my good shoes and my long gown. I always dressed well when I made calls. Some villages brought out their lion and danced ahead of me. You have no idea how much I have fallen coming to America.”
Nor did she change her name: Brave Orchid. Professional women have the right to use their maiden names if they like. Even when she emigrated, my mother kept Brave Orchid, adding no American name nor holding one in reserve for American emergencies.
My mother’s enthusiasm for me is duller than for the slave girl; nor did I replace the older brother and sister who died while they were still cuddly. Throughout my childhood my younger sister said, “When I grow up, I want to be a slave,” and my parents laughed, encouraging her.
I hope this holeless baby proves that my mother did not prepare a box of clean ashes beside the birth bed in case of a girl. “The midwife or a relative would take the back of a girl baby’s head in her hand and turn her face into the ashes,” said my mother. “It was very easy.” She never said she herself killed babies, but perhaps the holeless baby was a boy.
Whenever my parents said “home,” they suspended America. They suspended enjoyment, but I did not want to go to China. In China my parents would sell my sisters and me. My father would marry two or three more wives, who would spatter cooking oil on our bare toes and lie that we were crying for naughtiness. They would give food to their own children and rocks to us. I did not want to go where the ghosts took shapes nothing like our own.
“This is a terrible ghost country, where a human being works her life away,” she said. “Even the ghosts work, no time for acrobatics. I have not stopped working since the day the ship landed. I was on my feet the moment the babies were out. In China I never even had to hang up my own clothes. I shouldn’t have left, but your father couldn’t have supported you without me. I’m the one with the big muscles.”
“A long time ago,” began Brave Orchid, “the emperors had four wives, one at each point of the compass, and they lived in four palaces. The Empress of the West would connive for power, but the Empress of the East was good and kind and full of light. You are the Empress of the East, and the Empress of the West has imprisoned the Earth’s Emperor in the Western Palace. And you, the good Empress of the East, come out of the dawn to invade her land and free the Emperor. You must break the strong spell she has cast on him that has lost him the East.”
“Oh, Sister, I am so happy here. No one ever leaves. Isn’t that wonderful? We are all women here. Come. I want you to meet my daughters.” She introduced Brave Orchid to each inmate in the ward—her daughters. She was especially proud of the pregnant ones. “My dear pregnant daughters.” She touched the women on the head, straightened collars, tucked blankets. “How are you today, dear daughter?” “And, you know,” she said to Brave Orchid, “we understand one another here. We speak the same language, the very same. They understand me, and I understand them.” Sure enough, the women smiled back at her and reached out to touch her as she went by. She had a new story, and yet she slipped entirely away, not waking up one morning.
“I cut it so that you wouldn’t be tongue-tied. Your tongue would be able to move in any language. You’ll be able to speak languages that are completely different from one another. You’ll be able to pronounce anything. Your frenum looked too tight to do those things, so I cut it.”
Maybe because I was the one with the tongue cut loose, I had grown inside me a list of over two hundred things that I had to tell my mother so that she would know the true things about me and to stop the pain in my throat.