“We speak the same language, the very same”: Overcoming the Language Barrier

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.

useless.
different.
unwanted.

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.

distinct.
foreign.
outcast.

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.

United.

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?

11 thoughts on ““We speak the same language, the very same”: Overcoming the Language Barrier”

  1. Hi Skylar! I really love your poem and how you pointed out that language broke her down, but a different kind of language made her feel whole again. I agree with you that silence represents her losing herself in a way, which can be compared to the No Name Woman. We see how Moon Orchid wants to avoid confrontation with her husband, which is kind of like how the No Name Woman avoided any confrontation with her baby’s father. Moon Orchid shows us how worried she is to meet her husband once again by saying “I don’t want to see him. Suppose he throws me out? Oh, he will. He’ll throw me out. And he’ll have a right to throw me out…” (Kingston, 144). It seems that both of them believe that they need to protect the other man. The No Name Woman protects him by not giving out his name, and Moon Orchid feels she could protect her husband and show respect to him by not showing up to his house uninvited.

    1. Great points, Jenn! We know also that Moon Orchid thinks her husband is doing a fine job fulfilling his obligations by supporting her financially. She is not unhappy with him; it’s all Brave Orchid’s wild imagination, fantasies, and stories that make him into a villain.

  2. Hi Skylar! Great blog post and I love that you started it with your poem, which was also really good too! I think Moon Orchid and the No Name Woman are very similar in the fact that their stories were silenced and, basically, forbidden to tell. They were both suppressed by the men in their lives and have suffered from the consequences after. As Kingston states, “What if he hits me?” (145), it shows how much fear Moon Orchid was living in. We also still do not know the full story about the No Name Woman, so it is possible she could have been feeling the same way.

  3. Hi Skylar! I enjoyed your post ad your outlook on the idea of the language barrier each character faces. I thought it was super cool that you wrote a poem as well. When reading this chapter I kept thinking back on the No Name Woman and could not help, but think if this is how she sometimes felt by men in her life. When talking about going to see her husband Moon Orchid was extremely nervous Brave Orchid basically forces her sister to see him, she says, “Maybe you should dye your hair black, so he wont think you’re old. Or I have a wig you can borrow. On the other hand he should see how you’ve suffered. Yes, let his see how he’s made your hair turn white.” (128). It seems as if Moon Orchid has suffered against the hands of men just as the No Name Woman had too. Moon Orchid knows that her husband has another wife and it seems as if she doesn’t want to see him because she doesn’t want to intrude in his life with her, even though she is his wife as well.

  4. Hi Skylar, great blog post, and great use of the poem! I think that there is a connection between the fact that it was not until Moon Orchid was put into the mental institution and out of the reach of her family that she finally seemed to find peace. Moon orchid suffered being put down many times even by her own doctor when he says that Moon Orchid wasn’t “supposed to come here”, and that she “can’t belong”. Moon orchid and the woman warrior are similar in which both are quiet, dependent, and do not stick up for themselves.

    1. Hi Kelley! We meet a lot of woman warriors throughout the book, so when you refer to one, it would be helpful if you could specify: the No Name Woman? Fa Mu Lan? The narrator? The narrator’s mother, Brave Orchid? Also, don’t forget page numbers! Otherwise, great observations.

  5. Hi Skylar! I think it was super creative and clever of you to create a poem based off of the chapter we read, and it’s even better because you wrote it. I agree with your claims about the silence of the No Name Woman and the Moon Orchard. I definitely think it can be a representation of how women are deemed inferior to all men. When Moon Orchards husband tells her, “You can’t talk to them. You can barely talk to me” (154), it shows how men within the society encourage silence as if women aren’t already oppressed enough.

  6. Skylar, lovely post! Writing and reading poetry can help to understand things in new ways, so I appreciate that you wrote a poem for us to read. I’m interested in your second question. Between Moon Orchid and the No Name Woman, readers can trace a theme of silence through both of their stories. These two women are also similar in that there was some unnatural conflict created between them and their husbands. For the No Name Woman, her pregnancy out of wedlock is of course what caused her issues, and, as Prof. Savonick mention, for Moon Orchid it was her sister’s stories that turned her husband seemingly into a bad guy. Both of these elements collide with the notion of the tight grip that traditional Chinese culture has on these women, and their disdain for it. What’s quite different about these two women, however, is the way their stories end. For the No Name Woman, we know that after she kills herself, she lives on as an unhappy ghost, her story lost nearly forever. Moon Orchid lives the rest of her life out much happier: “I am so happy here. No one ever leaves [the asylum]. Isn’t that wonderful? We are all women here. Come. I want you to meet my daughters” (160). Not only is Moon Orchid relishing in her new home at the asylum, she has even found herself a new family.

  7. Hi Skylar! I liked how you brought up potential themes occurring in this reading such as identity and silence. The No Name Woman and Moon Orchid are very much alike and I like the different comparisons you drew between these two characters. There seems to be some sort of dislike towards Moon Orchid like how there was to the No Name Woman. Both of these characters are looked down on and their characters kind of go against the norms of expectations they have in their societies. Brave Orchid and Mood Orchid have an interesting relationship. “Again it occurred to Brave Orchid that her sister wasn’t very bright, and she had not gotten any smarter in the last thirty years”(130). From this quote, the conclusion that can be made is that like everyone else in this section of the book has negative feelings toward Moon Orchid. Moon Orchid is almost like the odd one out similar to the No Name Woman. There are many distinct differences between Moon Orchid’s and Brain Orchid’s characters. I do think that there is a difference between Moon Orchid’s insanity and Brain Orchid’s strong beliefs both of these characters are living in two separate worlds. There is a difference between Chinese society and customs when compared to America’s which created this conflict between Moon Orchid and all of the characters in this chapter. This clashing of cultures practically leads Moon Orchid to go insane which is interesting because I feel as if it is difficult for many people to assimilate/conform to America’s culture.

    1. Hi Skylar!!
      Your post really clarified up a few points for me, and you did so rather eloquently in your post. The poem provided ties together important points in the No Name Woman. As Tai wrote, the comparisons drawn between The No Name Woman and Moon Orchid are uncanny. Once again, we see a common theme of silence and disunity within the poem, entitled “Out of the Ordinary” and The No name Woman. In your poem, the words “useless, different, and unwanted” stand out to me, as well as “distinct, foreign, and outcast” Much like the persona in the poem, “The No Name Woman” is seen as someone to keep held down, much like the secrets of the family. Moon Orchid and The No Name Woman are both seen as foreign to their families, with both oftheir stories untold.

  8. Hello Skylar! wow! I LOVED your post!!
    I completely agree with your point, I also find it so heartbreaking the way Moon is treated, I felt so bad for Moon while reading the chapter because everything for her was new and she was amazed by every little thing that surrounded her, but the family did not understand this and, as a consequence of this miscommunication and culture clash, she was seen as annoying, not only by the children, but also by everyone else.

    I also loved how you expressed that “she does not feel sane until she is insane”, which reminds me to the No Name Woman, she finally felt “free” when she ended with her life.

    Finally, I found really interesting the way Moon and Brave eventually were “transformed” into Chinese ghosts in America when they had to face the reality of the husband’s new life; I saw this in page 152 when he asks “What is it, Grandmothers?”, the way they handled the situation, relying on Brave’s believe in Chinese traditions made them turn into ghosts of the past culture and life the husband decided to leave behind.

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