As a writer, I wield my voice like an actor affects an accent. My voice is bipolar, sometimes suffering from multiple personalities. I use a different voice every time I want to speak of a different part of me. I use a different voice to speak of my writing than I do to speak of my music. I use a different voice when speaking of my friends than when speaking of my family. I use a different voice when speaking of what is American than when speaking of what is Filipino. My cultural duplicity has created a schism inside of my, a schizophrenia of what I know and what I mean. When I write about myself as a Filipino-American, it compels me to sacrifice American grammatical correctness in order to convey my Filipino meaning. For instance, when speaking of my mother, I can never write completely in English, and I can never write completely as myself. My mother isn't an entity that can be explained wholly in English, and she's not an entity that I am entitled to explain myself, so I must tell her story as another, another who would know. In order to make the reader understand, I must at times walk two roads simultaneously, writing neither one way nor the other, but both at the same time. In one moment, I will be fully immersed in the story and in others I will have removed myself completely and begin telling the story as another.
Maxine Hong Kingston manipulates the art of narration as skillfully in this manner, straddling two worlds of language, two points of view, two voices. Kingston uses her voice as an instrument, singing a different song each time she plays it. Her voice sometimes sings her own story, sometimes that of her mother, or of her father. In her memoirs, Woman Warrior, and a collection of essays based on the lives of her male ancestors, China Men, Kingston speaks in different voices to tell the stories of those who came before her. Her many voices, using different ones to speak of her mother, her father, herself in relation to her mother, her mother in relations to China, etc, weave the tapestry of her life. Their stories comprise her own story, her own exploration of what it means to be Chinese, American, and Chinese-American.
Kingston's narrative style takes on three different tones, never completely staying in the first person. Likewise, her essays are never directly and completely about herself; they're every exocentric, focusing on Kingston's relationship to those around her and the elements that influenced her development. She includes the histories of many others within her pieces, using them to express a part of her which her own experiences cannot explain. She is an archaeologist of the self, exploring her past in order to explain her present, digging into what once was in order to understand what she is now. Together, her many voices create for the reader a symphony, discordant thought not cacophonous, of her being. The sounds of her tapestry blend together like street chalks on a rainy day: confusing and overwhelming to comprehend at times, but beautiful nonetheless. She uses her voices to show us the conclusions that she draws about herself, as if she is "talk-storying" her way to self-discovery. After reading each piece, the reader has a better sense of exactly who Kingston is as a Chinese-American female. She uses her voice to explain her cultural identity, to eradicate the confusion that results from being taught America by a Chinese school. Her obsession is trying to "understand what things in [her] are Chinese" ("No Name Woman" 5). Kingston asks "how do you separate what is peculiar to childhood, to poverty, insanities, one family, your mother who marked your growing with stories, from what is Chinese? What is Chinese tradition and what is the movies" ("No Name Woman" 5-6)? She tries to discern what about her life thus has been a part of everyone's childhood or growth, whether her deprivation was that of poverty or of being Chinese, whether her family's quirks were insanity or being Chinese. What is Chinese and what is universally? In trying to answer this questions, she develops the same vocal schizophrenia as me. Her voice leaps from hers to her mothers and sometimes merely sways and wavers in between. Her writing is intensely autobiographical, yet she spreads herself widely over a spectrum of omniscience. Her first-person presence within her writing ranges from constant to at times almost nonexistent and undetectable.