The Woman Warrior

by

Maxine Hong Kingston

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Fa Mu Lan Character Analysis

Also known as “the woman warrior” (and familiar in Western popular culture as “Mulan”), legend has it that she replaced her father in battle and saved her village from a greedy baron. Kingston imagines herself as The Woman Warrior to defy her mother’s expectation that she will be “a wife and a slave,” deciding instead that she “would have to grow up a warrior woman,” using the “the song of the warrior woman” that her mother had taught her to imagine other possibilities for herself. Fa Mu Lan lives with an old man and an old woman who train her from the age of seven to the age of twenty-two to avenge her village. The legend of Fa Mu Lan is reimagined by Kingston with the inclusion of details that are specific to her Western upbringing. For example, Fa Mu Lan’s effort to depose the current emperor, whom she beheads, and inaugurate “the peasant who would begin the new order” is reminiscent of Joan of Arc. Kingston even mentions Joan directly in the narrative as a contrast to the woman warrior, who has a husband and a son, whereas Joan of Arc was “a maiden.” The woman warrior also goes alone in the woods for a spirit journey, akin to the traditional spirit journey that Native American boys take as a rite of passage during puberty. After years on the mountain being trained by the old couple, Fa Mu Lan returns to her family, and they carve a message of revenge on her back. At the age of twenty-two, she gathers an army, marries “a childhood friend,” and soon bears a child. Disguised as a man, she enters the baron’s stronghold, reveals the message and simultaneously reveals herself to be a woman, then decapitates him. Kingston chooses Fa Mu Lan as a heroine, for the warrior woman’s femininity does not hinder her strength, but instead reinforces it. The story of the woman warrior contradicts Brave Orchid’s negative attitude toward girls and also challenges China’s traditional devaluation of girls and women.

Fa Mu Lan Quotes in The Woman Warrior

The The Woman Warrior quotes below are all either spoken by Fa Mu Lan or refer to Fa Mu Lan. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Storytelling and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Woman Warrior published in 1989.
2. White Tigers Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Maxine Hong Kingston (speaker), Brave Orchid, Fa Mu Lan
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

I saw two people made of gold dancing the earth’s dances. They turned so perfectly together they were the axis of the earth’s turning [….] Chinese lion dancers, African lion dancers in midstep. I heard high Javanese bells deepen in midring to Indian bells, Hindu Indian, American Indian [….] Then the dancers danced the future—a machine-future—in clothes I had never seen before. I am watching the centuries pass in moments because suddenly I understand time, which is spinning and fixed like the North Star. And I understand how working and hoeing are dancing; how peasant clothes are golden, as king’s clothes are golden; how one dancer is always a man and the other a woman.

Related Characters: Maxine Hong Kingston (speaker), Fa Mu Lan
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

The swordswoman and I are not so dissimilar. May my people understand the resemblance soon so that I can return to them. What we have in common are the words at our backs. The idioms for revenge are “report a crime” and “report to five families.” The reporting is the vengeance—not the beheading, not the gutting, but the words. And I have so many words— “chink” words and “gook” words too—that they do not fit on my skin.

Related Characters: Maxine Hong Kingston (speaker), Fa Mu Lan
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Woman Warrior LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Woman Warrior PDF

Fa Mu Lan Character Timeline in The Woman Warrior

The timeline below shows where the character Fa Mu Lan appears in The Woman Warrior. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
2. White Tigers
Storytelling and Identity Theme Icon
Gender Roles in Chinese Culture Theme Icon
...to talk-story as another “great power.” After she grew up, she recalled the chant of Fa Mu Lan , “the girl who took her father’s place in battle.” Kingston had heard it in... (full context)
Storytelling and Identity Theme Icon
...over [their] roof,” similar to those in brush drawings. Kingston begins to imagine herself as Fa Mu Lan . She would have been seven years old on the day that she followed the... (full context)
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...peaches.” At bedtime, they tuck her into a bed just as wide as Kingston / Fa Mu Lan ’s body, and the old woman covers her with “a silk bag stuffed with feathers... (full context)
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The old man and old woman ask Kingston / Fa Mu Lan to stay with them for fifteen years. When she asks about her parents, the old... (full context)
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Silence vs. Speech Theme Icon
The first thing Kingston / Fa Mu Lan has to learn, says the old woman, is how to be quiet. They leave her... (full context)
Storytelling and Identity Theme Icon
Gender Roles in Chinese Culture Theme Icon
...her “blindfolded to the mountains of the white tigers.” With a running start, Kingston / Fa Mu Lan leaps “over the roots, rocks,” and “the little hills.” The “tiger place” is “a mountain... (full context)
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Kingston / Fa Mu Lan collects wood. The old man and old woman had taught her that fire is stored... (full context)
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Kingston / Fa Mu Lan has gotten “smug” in her strength because the first two days were so easy. The... (full context)
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One day, Kingston / Fa Mu Lan walks “long distances.” Food becomes very scarce. She has walked into “dead land,” where there... (full context)
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Suddenly, a white rabbit appears. For a moment, Kingston / Fa Mu Lan thinks it is “a blob of snow that had fallen out of the sky.” Her... (full context)
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During her fast, before the rabbit appeared, hunger made Kingston / Fa Mu Lan hallucinate. She saw “two people made of gold dancing the earth’s dances,” turning “so perfectly... (full context)
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Kingston / Fa Mu Lan then sees “the old brown man and the old gray woman” walking toward [her] out... (full context)
Storytelling and Identity Theme Icon
...but “adult wisdom” is required to know dragons. Dragons are too big, and Kingston / Fa Mu Lan will never see a live one in its entirety. Climbing the mountains is like walking... (full context)
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Kingston / Fa Mu Lan makes her mind “large” to understand the universe and its “paradoxes.” She works every day... (full context)
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Kingston / Fa Mu Lan also look in the water gourd to watch the men she will one day have... (full context)
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The old man shows Kingston / Fa Mu Lan the “strengths and weaknesses” of other warriors when they go into battle. She sees the... (full context)
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Gender Roles in Chinese Culture Theme Icon
When Kingston / Fa Mu Lan starts menstruating, she thinks that she has injured herself jumping over her sword. Menstruation does... (full context)
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Gender Roles in Chinese Culture Theme Icon
To console Kingston / Fa Mu Lan for being without her family on the day she becomes a woman, the old man... (full context)
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...the baron has “pledged fifty men” from the district, “one from each family.” Kingston / Fa Mu Lan ’s future husband and youngest brother both volunteer, but her father insists that he will... (full context)
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The water in the gourd “churns” and Kingston / Fa Mu Lan then sees the faces of the baron and his family, who thank the gods out... (full context)
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Kingston / Fa Mu Lan stays on the mountain for years, talking only to the old man and the old... (full context)
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When Kingston / Fa Mu Lan reaches her village, she sees how old her mother and father have gotten. She helps... (full context)
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Gender Roles in Chinese Culture Theme Icon
Kingston / Fa Mu Lan 's father announces that he has been drafted. She insists that she will take his... (full context)
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The writing is painful, but Kingston / Fa Mu Lan ’s training has taught her how to withstand the pain caused by the cuts and... (full context)
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Kingston / Fa Mu Lan has been waiting for such a sign. Her parents prepare her food and the villagers... (full context)
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Gender Roles in Chinese Culture Theme Icon
Often, Kingston / Fa Mu Lan walks beside her horse. At times when they have to impress other armies, she “mounted... (full context)
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Kingston / Fa Mu Lan ’s first opponent is a giant. She cuts off its leg, then, when it leans... (full context)
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Kingston / Fa Mu Lan leads the army northward. The emperor sends the enemies that she was chasing after her... (full context)
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Gender Roles in Chinese Culture Theme Icon
One spring morning, while Kingston / Fa Mu Lan is in her tent repairing equipment, her childhood friend and future husband appears. He says... (full context)
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Gender Roles in Chinese Culture Theme Icon
Kingston / Fa Mu Lan hides from battle only once, to give birth to her son. She and her husband... (full context)
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Gender Roles in Chinese Culture Theme Icon
Kingston / Fa Mu Lan ’s body slims again, and she gets lonely, feeling the milk drip from her breasts.... (full context)
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A few million villagers go with Kingston / Fa Mu Lan to the capital to face their emperor. They “beheaded him, cleaned out the palace, and... (full context)
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Back home, Kingston / Fa Mu Lan drops her soldiers off “at crossroads and bridges” and confronts the baron in his stronghold... (full context)
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...such as one who had joined to save a child hostage, are spared. Kingston / Fa Mu Lan search the house and find a group of “whimpering women” with “little bound feet.” She... (full context)
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Gender Roles in Chinese Culture Theme Icon
After the trials, the villagers “tore down the ancestral tablets” and Kingston / Fa Mu Lan declares that the baron’s great hall will be used for operas and talk-story. Then she... (full context)
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The Immigrant Experience  Theme Icon
...for his family. Oddly, Kingston thinks her family was treated like the baron's in the Fa Mu Lan legend. (full context)
4. At the Western Palace
Gender Roles in Chinese Culture Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience  Theme Icon
...Orchid then presented gifts to everyone. One of the gifts was a paper cutout of Fa Mu Lan that was green and beautiful. (full context)