Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
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The last section, "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe," describes
Kingston's desire to find her voice. Her mother cut the frenum
of her tongue when she was an infant, presumably in order to
keep her from being "tongue-tied" and to help her speak two
languages, but Kingston finds this disturbing and ineffectual.
She describes a painful childhood learning English in an
indifferent school system where her language learning
difficulties and cultural conflicts were treated with scorn. She
remembers a totally silent schoolgirl whom she one day tortured
in the girls' bathroom in an attempt to make her talk. After this
event, Kingston gets a mysterious illness, which keeps her in
bed for eighteen months. Kingston saves up a list of more than
two hundred complaints and confessions to tell her mother. She
confronts her mother, and tells her she fears being sold into
slavery as her mother's China stories have led her to believe.
She also refuses to be treated as a second class citizen, and
confesses that she is smart according to her American teachers.
She leaves home to escape from the anxiety she feels with her
mother and her cultural heritage; but she returns later with an
understanding of her mother and an appreciation for her
storytelling power. She ends the book on two stories, one is her
mother's and the other is hers. Her mother's story is about her
grandmother who loved operas so much she made her family
brave bandits to attend. Her story is about an ancient Chinese
poet named Ts'ai Yen who was kidnapped by barbarians and
kept for twelve years during which time she had two children
and learned to respect the music of the barbarians. When she
returned from captivity, she produced poetry that combined
barbarian language and Chinese language.
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