"The Woman Warrior"--Vocabulary from "White Tigers"

Maxine Hong Kingston's "The Woman Warrior" recounts the troubles and triumphs of Chinese women in ancient folklore and in modern day America. Learn this word list that focuses on the theme of imagination vs. reality.

Here are links to all of our lists for “The Woman Warrior”:
No Name Woman, White Tigers, Shaman, At the Western Palace, and A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe.

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. opaque
    not transmitting or reflecting light or radiant energy
    The bird would cross the sun and lift into the mountains (which look like the ideograph “mountain”), there parting the mist briefly that swirled opaque again.
    Another definition of "opaque" is "not clearly understood or expressed"--this does not fit the example sentence, which is literally talking about mist. But the opacity of the mist also symbolizes the young Kingston's relationship to Chinese culture.
  2. murky
    dark or gloomy
    Even when I got used to that gray, I would only see peaks as if shaded in pencil, rocks like charcoal rubbings, everything so murky.
  3. camouflage
    exploit the natural surroundings to disguise something
    The bird, now gold so close to the sun, would come to rest on the thatch of a hut, which, until the bird’s two feet touched it, was camouflaged as part of the mountainside.
  4. muss
    make messy or untidy
    When I stepped carelessly and mussed a line, my feet kicked up new blends of earth colors, but the old man and old woman walked so lightly that their feet never stirred the designs by a needle.
    In the example sentence, the image of mussing a line literally refers to messing up the carefully arranged pine needles on the floor. But it is also a theme that runs throughout the book--whether Kingston is mussing the line between memory and myth, reality and fiction, her personal stories and those of her family, female and male...
    While the definition of "muss" suggests an undesired state, Kingston seems to encourage it because it could lead to "new blends of earth colors."
  5. magnify
    to enlarge beyond bounds or the truth
    At first I saw only water so clear it magnified the fibers in the walls of the gourd.
  6. shimmer
    shine with a weak or fitful light
    As the water shook, then settled, the colors and lights shimmered into a picture, not reflecting anything I could see around me.
  7. dilation
    the act of expanding an aperture
    After five years my body became so strong that I could control even the dilations of the pupils inside my irises.
  8. distinguish
    mark as different
    I heard the white tigers prowling on the other side of the fire, but I could not distinguish them from the snow patches.
  9. molten
    reduced to liquid form by heating
    They were light; they were molten, changing gold—Chinese lion dancers, African lion dancers in midstep.
  10. transmigration
    the passing of a soul into another body after death
    I had met a rabbit who taught me about self-immolation and how to speed up transmigration: one does not have to become worms first but can change directly into a human being— as in our own humaneness we had just changed bowls of vegetable soup into people too.
  11. infer
    reason by deduction; establish by deduction
    “You have to infer the whole dragon from the parts you can see and touch,” the old people would say.
  12. paradox
    a statement that contradicts itself
    I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.
  13. sage
    a mentor in spiritual and philosophical topics
    “Some of the people are saying the Eight Sages took you away to teach you magic,” said a little girl cousin.
  14. relinquish
    part with a possession or right
    Then the villagers relinquished their real gifts to me--their sons.
    For a woman who has fought for the rights that she believes should be just as much hers as the males around her, having people recognize her worth by relinquishing their sons to her (to be under her command) would be a real gift. But this only happened in Kingston's dream life.
  15. altered
    changed in form or character without becoming something else
    When I became pregnant, during the last four months, I wore my armor altered so that I looked like a powerful, big man.
  16. palpable
    capable of being perceived
    The leader stared at the palpable sword swishing unclutched at his men, then laughed aloud.
  17. testify
    provide evidence for
    “I saw him steal seed grain,” another testified.
  18. vouch
    give supporting evidence
    I myself never encountered such women and could not vouch for their reality.
  19. filial
    relating to or characteristic of or befitting an offspring
    From the words on my back, and how they were fulfilled, the villagers would make a legend about my perfect filiality.
    The word "filiality" sounds made up (as of the date of this list, it is not listed in this site's dictionary). The words "legend" and "perfect" add to the unreal quality. The example sentence is describing Kingston's dream of being successful in the battlefield and on the home front. But in her American life, Kingston struggles with her Chinese parents' expectations of filiality.
  20. guise
    an artful or simulated semblance
    I easily recognize them—business-suited in their modern American executive guise, each boss two feet taller than I am and impossible to meet eye to eye.
  21. forge
    come up with after a mental effort
    If I took the sword, which my hate must surely have forged out of the air, and gutted him, I would put color and wrinkles into his shirt.
    In the example sentence, the act of forging a sword is only imaginary because Kingston was in the real world. But in her dream world where she was a warrior, she had the ability to forge a palpable sword with her mind. However, Kingston got her revenge on her boss years later through a weapon mightier than an imaginary sword that she also forged with her mind: her book.
  22. perception
    knowledge gained by awareness through the senses
    My brain had momentarily lost its depth perception.
  23. guru
    a Hindu or Buddhist religious leader and spiritual teacher
    I’ve also looked for old people who could be my gurus.
  24. mystic
    relating to immediate spiritual intuition of truths
    Between the head line and heart line in my right palm, she said, I have the mystic cross.
  25. idiom
    expression whose meaning cannot be inferred from its words
    The idioms for revenge are “report a crime” and “report to five families.”

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