Brave Orchid: The Thematic Power Of Silence

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The first words of Maxine Kingston’s memoir: “You must not tell anyone” (1) indicates the thematic power of silence that permeates Kingston’s life. When she was young, her mother (Brave Orchid) cut the frenum of her tongue. Her mother claimed to do it because she did not want her daughter to be “tongue tied” (164), but her efforts did not seem to help Kingston who has a “terrible time talking” (165). At first, she did not recognize her silence as a problem. When she realized that she had to talk in school, “the silence became a misery” (166). Even as a young child, she was incredibly observant and noted that other Chinese girls did not speak either, and so she drew the conclusion that “the silence had to do with being a Chinese girl” (166). Kingston does not say that all Chinese children found themselves in silence – only the girls did. She does not only have to find her identity as a Chinese American, but as a girl, and to figure out how these two facets of her identity work together to define her. Brave Orchid’s cutting her daughter’s tongue resulted in a physiological change; however, Kingston’s issue with speaking proves to be more psychological. She writes,…show more content…
In the beginning of the chapter, Kingston writes, “A dumbness – a shame – still cracks my voice in two” (165). To this very day, she struggles with her voice, but she has found the words she needs to use it. She went from failing kindergarten for not speaking, to finally standing up to her mother when in high school: “They [teachers] tell me I’m smart, and I can win scholarships. I can get into colleges. I’ve already applied. I’m smart” (201). Even though Kingston did not verbally speak very often in her childhood years, she thought. She thought of a list of things to tell her mother and created momentum by piling words behind her teeth that had to be spoken eventually, which she does towards the end of the
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