"The Woman Warrior"--Vocabulary from "Shaman"

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 Brave Orchid as a doctor, mother, and woman.

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. proficiency
    the quality of having great facility and competence
    The largest says that in the twenty-third year of the National Republic, the To Keung School of Midwifery, where she has had two years of instruction and Hospital Practice, awards its Diploma to my mother, who has shown through oral and written examination her Proficiency in Midwifery, Pediatrics, Gynecology, “Medecine,” “Surgary,” Therapeutics, Ophthalmology, Bacteriology, Dermatology, Nursing, and Bandage.
    The quotation marks are Kingston's way of showing that the two misspellings are the school's and not hers. By highlighting the school's mistakes on an official document, Kingston seems to be questioning the proficiency that a student, such as her mother, could acquire from that school. This theme is shown throughout the book, as Kingston shows both respect for and disagreement with her mother's knowledge, strength, and methods.
  2. posterity
    all future generations
    My mother is not smiling; Chinese do not smile for photographs. Their faces command relatives in foreign lands—“Send money”—and posterity forever—“Put food in front of this picture.”
  3. servitude
    state of subjection to an owner or master
    Free from families, my mother would live for two years without servitude.
  4. relish
    derive or receive pleasure from
    My mother relished these scare orgies.
    The words "relish" and "orgy" in the same sentence suggest a sexual wildness, which Kingston had hinted at when she was writing about an unknown aunt, but here she is talking about her mother and ghost stories. Kingston's choice of words could connect to her own timid nature that would not relish being scared.
  5. validate
    give evidence for
    She could validate ghost sightings.
  6. practical
    guided by experience and observation rather than theory
    A practical woman, she could not invent stories and told only true ones.
  7. evoke
    call forth to appear or occur
    The ghost might hear her too; she did not know whether her voice would evoke it or disperse it.
  8. pare
    cut small bits from
    She became sharply herself—bone, wire, antenna—but she was not afraid. She had been pared down like this before, when she had travelled up the mountains into rare snow—alone in white not unlike being alone in black.
  9. endure
    face and withstand with courage
    There is no pain you can inflict that I cannot endure.
  10. wrest
    obtain by seizing forcibly or violently, also metaphorically
    I would have cut it up, and we would be mopping blood this morning, but—a Sitting Ghost mutation—it had an extra arm that wrested my hand away from the knife.
  11. epidemic
    a widespread outbreak of an infectious disease
    She stayed awake keeping watch nightly in an epidemic and chanted during air raids.
  12. felicitous
    marked by good fortune
    With an American pencil, she wrote a word, a felicitous word such as “longevity” or “double joy,” which is symmetrical.
  13. ingenious
    showing inventiveness and skill
    How else do you suppose I think of such ingenious questions?
  14. squeamish
    excessively fastidious and easily disgusted
    She was not squeamish, though, and deftly caught spewings that were sometimes babies, sometimes monsters.
  15. deft
    skillful in physical movements; especially of the hands
    She was not squeamish, though, and deftly caught spewings that were sometimes babies, sometimes monsters.
  16. dismember
    separate the limbs from the body
    Once the third aunt who worked at the laundry ran out and bought us bags of candy to hold over our noses; my mother was dismembering skunk on the chopping block.
  17. contend
    be engaged in a fight
    My mother could contend against the hairy beasts whether flesh or ghost because she could eat them, and she could not-eat them on the days when good people fast.
  18. dally
    waste time
    My mother and the women her age talked about how similar this day was to the orderly days long ago when they walked up the mountain to collect firewood, only now they could dally without the mothers-in-law scolding.
    Compare the definitions of "dally" and "efficient" and note that this description of Brave Orchid dallying came before she emigrated and became a mother of six children.
  19. efficient
    being effective without wasting time, effort, or expense
    We ran, screaming to our mother, who efficiently shut the window.
  20. atavistic
    characteristic of a throwback
    Her palm lines do not branch into head, heart, and life lines like other people’s but crease with just one atavistic fold.
    To be atavistic is to be characteristic of a throwback, usually to an earlier way of life or thinking. Kingston uses "atavistic" to describe a physical crease on her mother's palm that folds back onto itself. With this description, Kingston distinguishes her mother from other people, yet also suggests that her mother is less connected and forward-facing than others (which is contradicted two sentences later with the description of her mother adopting American fashions).
  21. rheumatism
    any painful disorder of the joints or muscles
    I’ll get rheumatism washing potatoes, squatting over potatoes.
  22. indignation
    a feeling of righteous anger
    My mother and father have stoked each other’s indignation for almost forty years telling stories about land quarrels among the uncles, the in-laws, the grandparents.
  23. inconsolable
    sad beyond comforting
    I want every one of you living here together. When you’re all home, all six of you with your children and husbands and wives, there are twenty or thirty people in this house. Then I’m happy. And your father is happy. Whichever room I walk into overflows with my relatives, grandsons, sons-in-law. I can’t turn around without touching somebody. That’s the way a house should be.” Her eyes are big, inconsolable.
  24. intervene
    be placed or located between other things
    She pries open my head and my fists and crams into them responsibility for time, responsibility for intervening oceans.
    Another definition of the verb "intervene" is "get involved, so as to alter or hinder an action"--in the example sentence, Kingston is referring to the oceans that separate family, but the adjective "intervening" can also describe her view of her mother's desired influence on her life. Kingston welcomes the intervening oceans more than she does her intervening mother.
  25. endearment
    the act of showing affection
    She has not called me that endearment for years—a name to fool the gods.

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