Out of the Ordinary
Stuck in a divergent, twisted limbo
filled with a place of tradition and familiarity;
Mixed with an unknown language, peculiar people
and an identity that is
lost in a tornado of unfamiliarity.
Trapped behind a transparent barrier
between her own universe
and their world.
A strange new world,
one where language and skin color defines who you are.
Her identity is lost
between who she is and who her sister wants her to be.
No place to call home.
Confused with the way of life, here.
Desiring and begging to go back to where she once was.
No place to make her own.
Paranoid delusions fill her mind
and prohibit her from staying sane.
Unable to belong to this new lifestyle,
her new home is an asylum.
People resonate with her,
understand her stories, and her madness.
She does not feel odd.
She is able to find peace among insanity.
Similar to all the other chapters in “The Woman Warrior,” “In the Western Palace” continues presenting this major theme of contrasting cultures. In this story, there is a culture clash between the old lifestyle of Chinese culture represented by Moon Orchid and Brave Orchid and the new lifestyle represented by Moon Orchid’s nieces, nephews, and her doctor husband. Moon Orchid leaves her life of traditions and customs to enter a new life where she must learn to adopt and transition. However, she fails at completing simple tasks and conforming to American life. Along with being pushed behind a language barrier, her sister strongly pushes her to be this “woman warrior” that reclaims her husband and becomes the mother to the other wife’s children. Moon Orchid is unable to confidently succeed with this challenge and ultimately, loses her own identity due to the culture shock in America.
Moon Orchid is unable to develop meaningful relationships with her nieces and nephews due to the language barrier and lifestyle differences. In a way, she is foreign among her biological family. She wanders around the house with a mind filled with questions and pure curiosity. She observes everything that her family does to try and understand their lifestyle. However, the family becomes quickly annoyed and irritated by the presence of their aunt. In one moment she asks one of her youngest niece what she is doing and the niece replies “You’re breathing on me. Don’t breathe on me.” (Kingston, 132). The aunt was simply wondering what the girl was doing and in return, the niece is being extremely hostile. The niece does not want anything to do with her aunt and this is how most of the children begin to feel. It is extremely difficult for the aunt and the children to connect because they are in complete opposite lifestyles. Another moment in the story, the children claim that the aunt is “driving [them] nuts!” (Kingston, 141) and they say this to one another in English infront of their aunt. The children purposely speak in English because their aunt cannot understand them; It is as if the presence of the aunt is a burden among them. It is truly heartbreaking because the aunt is only trying to belong but she is constantly being suppressed. In the end, when she becomes mentally ill, the children state “Chinese people are very weird” (Kingston, 158). This shows how vastly different the children are compared to the aunt. The children base their judgement on their aunt to make a claim about people of their own. They are completely uneducated of their culture which is a problem that Brave Orchid deals with frequently in the story.
Brave Orchid is determined to have her sister reconnect with her husband based on a mythical story from China. However, Moon Orchid does not want to interrupt the lifestyle of her husband but her sister convinces her that she has no other option. Brave Orchid assumes that the traditions in China will fall over into the U.S which is not true due legality. Disregarding the rationality of the situation and Moon Orchid’s feelings, Brave Orchid truly believes that her sister will be able to storm into her husband’s house and become the mother of the other wife’s children. She claims “the children will go to their true mother—you” (Kingston, 125). This absurd mindset leads to an unfortunate situation that causes her sister to become mentally insane. Brave Orchid is misguided by her chinese culture which results in the loss of her sister.
When Brave Orchid unwillingly forces Moon Orchid to see her husband, Brave Orchid does most of the talking. Moon Orchid rarely speaks up and when she does she whispers the question “what about me” (Kingston, 153). Her husband points out the fact that she will never be able to fit in America because she “can barely talk to [him]” (Kingston, 153). This further supports that she is completely trapped behind a language barrier that is interfering her way of life. After he explicitly rejects her, she becomes insane and loses herself completely. In a way, Moon Orchid’s attempt to regain her husband back is an act of holding on to chinese tradition. However, in America a husband cannot have two wives. This completely devastated her into a reality that she is completely lost in this new world. She begins to stop writing which had been her way of communication. Silence is again, a symbol of losing one’s self. The way of life in America is not anything remotely close to what she has was used to in China. When Moon Orchid is in the insane asylum, her last words to her sister are “we understand one another here. We speak the same language, the very same. They understand me, and I understand them” (Kingston, 160). They all speak the language of madness in the asylum which unites them together, in a way that she never felt with her family. For Moon Orchid, language is what caused her to break down. It is ironic that a different type of language made her feel whole again.
The poem I wrote above is a retelling of Moon Orchid and her struggle to overcome language. It is interesting that she does not feel sane until she is insane. Do you think that Moon Orchid’s insanity is different from Brave Orchid’s strong belief in the chinese myth of the Empress of the East?
Kingston has presented two complex stories of her two aunts to us so far, How are Moon Orchid and the No Name Woman very much alike?