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Date QW Written: August 21, 2015
As a Chinese-American girl myself, I actually did not understand the literal meaning of “ghosts” until halfway through the novel, when Kingston names all the types of “ghosts” in America: the Mail Ghost, Newspaper Ghost, etc. Kingston uses a lot of stylistic choices in dialect. While talk-story is one of those choices made with the Cantonese dialect, “ghosts” is also slang in Cantonese, which “American” or “foreigner.” However, putting aside the literal meaning Kingston uses in a creative way, “ghosts” also symbolize Kingston’s struggle against the American culture she desires to be a part of.
The term of “ghost” is not Kingston’s own creation. It is a term introduced to her by Brave Orchid. In Brave Orchid’s stories of fighting a ghost in To Keung School and in her village, “ghosts” are in the English definition — something supernatural and evil. Kingston uses this knowledge of Brave Orchid’s ghosts to imply the same negative connotation to “ghosts” — people of a culture who seem to oppose her own aculturation.
In her subtitle, Kingston implies the singularity in herself being the only girl and human being in a world of ghosts. In a seemingly subtle plug, Kingston states how “human beings do not need Mail Ghosts to send messages.” In this quote, Kingston refers to her family, implying that only the Chinese, specifically her family, were human, while all other ethnicities were ghosts.
“Ghost” is a term that belongs solely to Kingston in its usage. In her case, “ghosts” represent the culture she cannot comprehend, cannot reach — a struggle. Certainly, American women have their own “ghosts” that represents struggle. Because Kingston’s novel is very feminist, it is illogical to say all American woman have one type of “ghost” they must all deal with. Kingston’s struggle to fit her ironically invisible girl being in a solid world of ghosts is too large to specifically home; therefore, she personally uses the term “ghost” to name this struggle. In American culture, “ghosts” can be any struggle to find one’s identity. Be it mysoginistic men or racist bosses, everyone — not just American women — have “ghosts” that oppress who they want to become. It is up to the individual to establish who these “ghosts” are and how to exorcise them.