Social Tyranny In Maxine Hong Kingston's No Name Woman

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John Stuart Mill first developed the idea of a social tyranny in the middle of the nineteenth century, during a time when radical political upheaval was taking place and the process of governance was becoming more democratic. Despite the weakening of the once absolute power of political institutions, one source of despotism remained: that of society itself. Social tyranny occurs “when society is itself the tyrant” (Mill 9), creating its own ‘laws’ and collectively administering justice upon those who break them. According to Mill, this form of oppression is especially dangerous, since it “leaves fewer means of escape… enslaving the soul itself” (Mill 9). In Maxine Hong Kingston’s “No Name Woman”, the village forms a social tyranny through its total subjugation of the private lives of its constituents, its strict code of sociocultural norms, and its enforcement of these practices via unanimous social excommunication.
One of the main criteria needed in order for a culture to become tyrannical is for it to pervade and dominate the private lives of anyone living within it. That is, it “penetrat[es] much more deeply into the details of life” (Mill 9) of an individual such that nothing is kept private and no details are made secret from the community. In the case of the narrator’s aunt, this happened during her pregnancy with an illegitimate child. While the family had noticed and kept track of the pregnancy’s progress, noting that the child
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It illustrates how the community actively discourages individuality and eccentricity while also removing the distinction between public and private lives. The threat of social exile enforces strict cultural norms along with the unilateral execution of these punishments from the villagers. In this way, the village models a social tyranny as described by John Stuart
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