"The Woman Warrior"--Vocabulary from "At the Western Palace"

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 family conflict.

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. dutiful
    willingly obedient out of a sense of respect
    “Do you think my son is in Vietnam?” she asked her niece, who was dutifully eating.
    The tone surrounding the word "dutifully" is not so respectful because 1) it describes a manner of eating at an airport, 2) it describes Brave Orchid's niece and not her children, and 3) it is being used by an author whose book highlights struggles with familial duties.
  2. oblivious
    lacking conscious awareness of
    Finally Moon Orchid gathered up her stuff, strings hanging and papers loose, and met her sister at the door, where they shook hands, oblivious to blocking the way.
    In the example sentence, both Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid are being oblivious and blocking strangers' ways. But later, Moon Orchid's obliviousness creates conflicts within the family, and throughout the book, Kingston shows how her obliviousness to Chinese customs creates conflicts with her mother, and her mother's obliviousness to American customs creates conflicts for her.
  3. grimace
    contort the face to indicate a certain mental state
    “First I’ve got shoes for all of you from Lovely Orchid,” Moon Orchid said, handing them out to her nieces and nephews, who grimaced at one another.
  4. cleaver
    a butcher's knife having a large square blade
    With a slam of her cleaver, she cracked rock candy into jagged pieces.
  5. barbarous
    primitive in customs and culture
    They’d put the bad mouth on their aunt’s first American day; you had to sweeten their noisy barbarous mouths.
    Another definition of "barbarous" is "able or disposed to inflict pain or suffering"--this definition could fit the example sentence because Brave Orchid is pained by her children's behavior. But the chosen definition reflects how Brave Orchid refers to all Americans, which includes her six children born in America, as "barbarians".
  6. relent
    give in, as to influence or pressure
    But Brave Orchid would not relent; her dainty sister would just have to toughen up.
  7. lenient
    not strict
    “Forget about a job,” she said, which was very lenient of her.
  8. burrow
    a hole made by an animal, usually for shelter
    Brave Orchid’s children were antisocial and secretive. Ever since they were babies, they had burrowed little nests for themselves in closets and underneath stairs; they made tents under tables and behind doors.
  9. persist
    refuse to stop
    “He probably has a car,” Brave Orchid persisted.
  10. meek
    evidencing little spirit or courage
    Don’t begin meek.
  11. articulate
    characterized by clear expressive language
    None of them were articulate or friendly.
  12. inaccessible
    capable of being reached with great difficulty or not at all
    And the nephew with the round face and round eyes was the “ inaccessible cliff.”
  13. billow
    a large sea wave
    She immediately recognized the youngest girl, “the raging billows.”
  14. provoke
    annoy continually or chronically
    It was as if she were seeing how much it took to provoke a savage.
  15. infuriate
    make furious
    It infuriated Brave Orchid that her sister held up each dish between thumb and forefinger, squirted detergent on the back and front, and ran water without plugging up the drain.
  16. denseness
    the quality of being mentally slow and limited
    Brave Orchid was again startled at her sister’s denseness.
  17. exasperated
    greatly annoyed; out of patience
    “Go take a walk,” Brave Orchid said, exasperated.
  18. connive
    form intrigues (for) in an underhand manner
    The Empress of the West would connive for power, but the Empress of the East was good and kind and full of light.
  19. maneuver
    act in order to achieve a certain goal
    Brave Orchid knew how the little wives maneuvered; her father had had two little wives.
  20. waylay
    wait in hiding to attack
    As she walked back to her sister, she noted corners and passageways, broom closets, other offices—ambush spots. Her sister could crouch behind a drinking fountain and wait for him to get thirsty. Waylay him.
  21. petty
    contemptibly narrow in outlook
    What a petty man he turned out to be, giving up responsibility for a pretty face.
  22. whimper
    cry weakly or softly
    Moon Orchid started to whimper.
  23. reclaim
    reassert one's right or title to
    “This is my sister who has come to Gold Mountain to reclaim her husband.”
    Another definition of "reclaim" is "bring, lead, or force to abandon a wrong or evil course of life and adopt a right one"--this also describes Brave Orchid's view of Moon Orchid's husband, but in the example sentence, the word is simply referring to taking back what Brave Orchid believes is rightfully Moon Orchid's. Notice how Brave Orchid does all the claiming, even as she pushes Moon Orchid to reclaim.
  24. stoke
    stir up
    Brave Orchid rubbed the slender hands, blew on the fingers, tried to stoke up the flickerings.
    Although this description is showing Brave Orchid being tender by trying to breathe some warmth into Moon Orchid's fingers, the word "stoke" is usually applied to an actual fire or to human anger. Brave Orchid enjoys stoking fiery conflicts. In this case, Moon Orchid was the firewood that got burned in the process. Out of guilt, Brave Orchid is now trying to stoke Moon Orchid back to life.
  25. asylum
    a hospital for mentally incompetent or unbalanced people
    Brave Orchid finally called her niece, who put Moon Orchid in a California state mental asylum.

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