Roundness In No Name Woman

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Patriarchy as Represented by the Symbol of Roundness in Maxine Hong Kingston’s “No Name Woman”

In the short story “No Name Woman,” Kingston pushes the motif of “roundness” pass its traditional connotations of family, union, and fulfilment, and through it explores Chinese feudal traditions as a tool of suppression for women, and the erased narrative of her aunt’s fatal transgressions.
Roundness features heavily in Chinese cultural iconography, in “round mooncakes, round doorways, round windows, and round rice bowls, of the Chinese” (Kingston 13). Its associations with perfection, harmony, and familial values serve as a reminder of “the law: the family must whole, faithfully keeping the descent line by having sons to feed the old and the dead, who in turn look after the family” (13). In other words, roundness is the status quo, which bears particularly harshly on women in hard times, when “to be woman, to have a daughter in starvation time was waste enough” (6).
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The narrator’s mother tells her story of her aunt as a cautionary tale, and in doing so draws a connection between the two. The narrator’s menstruation (Yue Jin in Chinese, as in “the moon’s passing” – once again, the roundness motif) mirrors the her aunt’s, her “forerunner[’s]” (8) “protruding melon of a stomach” (3). Indeed, the narrator views her childhood, barred from simple joys of flying “high kites” and “carnival ride[s]” and having to “pa[y] in guilt” (6) when she dares disobey, as markedly similar to her aunt’s life. Under the feudal system, women are relegated to the role of extending the descent line into perpetuity. Roundness, as critic Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong describes, is “mindlessly self-perpetuating; if a symbol of perfection and self-sufficiency, a circle also represents confinement” (“Necessity and Extravagance in Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior: Art and the Ethnic Experience”
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