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(Dis)figuration : the body as icon in the writings of Maxine Hong Kingston

Published inYearbook of English studies, vol. 24, p. 237-250
Publication date1994

The abuse of oppressed bodies within misogynistic patriarchal societies is an important aspect of Maxine Hong Kingston's fiction. This essay addresses the topos of physical disfiguration in her autobiographical works, The Woman Warrior and China Men through analysis of the rhetorical use of the body as a signifying system. Acts of violence committed upon the feminine body work both to punish femininity and also to break the silence imposed upon the feminine body. Woman-hatred, self-loathing, misogyny, are embodied in comprehensible images written on the body and through the power of storytelling are deprived of their power to disable. The breaking of female silence and empowerment through language is acknowledged by Kingston as the most significant feminist issue in The Woman Warrior. Fear and aggression are required for self-assertion: fear of misogynistic abuse and the aggression to claim and celebrate the body. Haunting fears, ghosts, are destroyed by the aggressive embodiment of them in the narrative topos of the body. Distinct from the violence that cripples and disables the feminine self is the violence that works for the self by laying bare the reality of female marginalization and oppression and abuse, making clearly visible the structures of patriarchal power that oppress all women.

  • Chinese-American Literature
  • Maxine Hong Kingston
  • Autobiography
  • Femininity
  • Feminism
  • Misogyny
  • Violence
  • Embodiment
Citation (ISO format)
MADSEN, Deborah Lea. (Dis)figuration : the body as icon in the writings of Maxine Hong Kingston. In: Yearbook of English studies, 1994, vol. 24, p. 237–250. doi: 10.2307/3507894
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ISSN of the journal0306-2473

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