|Objective for this Page:
To model a close and active reading of “No Name Woman,”
identifying key issues that may be developed later.
As you read and re-read “No Name Woman,” actively engage
with the words and their meanings. With pencil in hand, ask yourself and jot
down questions that spring to mind. Do not worry if the answers to your
questions are not clear at first reading.
More than likely, they are keys to larger issues that will become
apparent after you have read the entire story, thought about it, and then re-read
Below in blue are the opening and conclusion of “No Name
Woman.” The boldfaced numbers found in
the passage alert you to a corresponding question or commentary on the right.
Try this same sort of active reading as you read it for yourself. Feel free to suggest additional observations
by e-mail to Dr. Kelli Olson at email@example.com.
No Name Woman
choose carefully titles. Let's consider this one. Why are
names important and what would it mean not to have a name?
Is identity an issue in this work? What does it mean to be a woman in the
“You must not tell anyone,” my mother said, “what I am about to
tell you. 3 In China
your father had a sister who killed herself. She jumped into the family
well. We say that your father has all brothers because it is as if she had
never been born.
1924 just a few days after our 4village
celebrated 5seventeen hurry-up
weddings—to make sure that every young man who went ‘out on the
road’ would responsibly come home—your father and his brothers and
your grandfather and his brothers and your aunt’s new husband sailed for
6America, the Gold Mountain. It
was your grandfather’s last trip. Those lucky enough to get contracts
waved goodbye from the decks. They fed and guarded the stowaways and
helped them off in Cuba,
New York, Bali, Hawaii. ‘We’ll meet in
next year,’ they said. All of them sent money home.
“I remember looking at your aunt one day when she and I were dressing; I
had not noticed before that she had such a protruding melon of a stomach.
But I did not think, 'She’s pregnant,’ until she began to look like
other pregnant women, her shirt pulling and the white tops of her black
pants showing. She could not have been pregnant, you see, because her husband had been gone for years. 8No one said anything. We did not discuss it. In early summer she
was ready to have the child, long after that time when it could have been
9“The village had also
been counting. On the night the baby was to be born the 10
villagers raided our house. Some were crying. Like a great saw, teeth
strung with lights, files of people walked zigzag across our land, tearing
the rice. Their lanterns doubled in the disturbed black water, which
drained away through the broken bunds*. As the villagers closed in,
we could see that some of them, probably men and women we knew well, wore
white masks. The people with long hair hung it over their faces. Women
with short hair made it stand up on ends. Some had tied white bands around
their foreheads, arms, and legs.
2 Who is
the “you” here? Isn’t she doing exactly what her mother told her
not to do? She’s telling us!
3 Is this
sister the No Name Woman? Why is her story a family secret?
get oriented. Where is this
village? Later we see the men are headed to
. Where does the aunt's story take place?
Where are the mother and daughter living during the telling of the story?
5 What do
you suppose “hurry-up weddings” are and what is their purpose? How do
these weddings function differently than American weddings?
be called the “Gold
Mountain”? How would you
characterize these men?
7 What does this scene
tell us about the mother’s living relationship with the aunt?
Note the quotation marks that begin this paragraph; they remind us
that the aunt’s story is being told to the narrator.
8 Silence--a strange
response, isn’t it? However, silence seems to be a reoccurring feature of this
9 What had
the village been counting? Why
do you think the word “village” rather than “villagers” is used
would you describe this raid? Look closely at the words: “great saw,”
“disturbed black water,” “broken bunds,” “masks,” “long hair
hung…over their faces,” and
“short hair … [to] stand up on ends.”
*bund: an embankment used to control the flow of water (Merriam-Webster
tell anyone you had an aunt. Your father does not want to hear her name.
She has never been born.” I have believed that sex was unspeakable and
words so strong and fathers so frail that “aunt” would do my father
mysterious harm. I have thought that my family, having settled among
immigrants who had also been their neighbors in the ancestral land, needed
to clean their name, and a wrong word would incite the kinspeople even
here. 2But there is more to this silence: they want me to participate in
her punishment. And I have.
In the twenty years since I heard this story I have not asked for details
nor said my aunt’s name; I do not know it. People who can comfort the
dead can also chase after them to hurt them further—a reverse ancestor
worship. 3The real punishment
was not the raid swiftly inflicted by the villagers, but the family’s
deliberately forgetting her. 4Her
betrayal so maddened them, they saw to it that she would suffer forever,
even after death. Always hungry, always needing, she would have to beg
food from other ghosts, snatch and steal it from those whose living
descendants give them gifts. 5She
would have to fight the ghosts massed at crossroads for the buns a few
thoughtful citizens leave to decoy her away from village and home so that
the ancestral spirits could feast unharassed. At peace, they could act
like gods, not ghosts, their descent lines providing them with paper suits
and dresses, spirit money, paper houses, paper automobiles, chicken, meat,
and rice into eternity—essences delivered up in smoke and flames, steam
and incense rising from each rice bowl. In an attempt to make the Chinese
care for people outside the family, Chairman Mao encourages us now to give
our paper replicas to the spirits of outstanding soldiers and workers, no
matter whose ancestors they may be. My aunt remains forever hungry. 6Goods are not distributed evenly among the dead.
My aunt haunts me—her ghost drawn to me because now, after fifty
years of neglect, 7I alone
devote pages of paper to her, though not origamied* into houses and
clothes. I do not think she always means me well. I am telling on her, and
she was a 8spite suicide,
drowning herself in the drinking water. 9The
Chinese are always very frightened of the drowned one, whose weeping
ghost, wet hair hanging and skin bloated, waits silently by the water to
pull down a 10substitute.
warning sounds familiar.
the narrator kept silent about her aunt for so long?
What does she realize about her silence?
3 Is the narrator saying that
the family has acted worse than the villagers? How so?
4 Clearly the aunt betrayed her
“hurry up” husband; however, how was the adultery and pregnancy a
betrayal of the family?
5How do Chinese beliefs
about existence after death elucidate the family’s punishment of the
6 Why bring in Chairman
Mao and the even distribution of goods?
writing versus paper for honoring: are there similarities in the two? Why
choose one over the other?
the Japanese art or process of folding squares of paper into
representational shapes (Merriam-Webster
drowning in the family’s drinking water a spiteful act? Should we think
of the aunt as a victim?
paragraph how would you describe the narrator’s feelings toward the
aunt. (Consider: The aunt
“haunts” and “waits
silently for a substitute.” “I
do not think she means me well.”)
there similarities in the narrator’s and the aunt’s actions?
How do they both cross forbidden boundaries?
1. Answer the questions listed in the right-hand column.
Choose a question as an initial point of inquiry to generate ideas for an essay.
Outline an essay complete with thesis statements and several supporting points.
2. Read another section of “No Name Woman” and list
questions and comments alongside the text. Formulate a thesis statement for a
presentation or an essay from your observations.