Brave Orchid

Maxine’s mother, Brave Orchid, is a very troubling character.  Her behavior often conflicts her words, leaving Maxine with the burden of interpreting her mother’s true character, weeding through the stories and bizarre behavior to find bits of truth to string together.  I’m not sure if there is such a distinct difference in Brave in these 2 stories, sure there is a difference of age between the narratives, but the almost total absence of Maxine from “At the Western Palace” makes it difficult for me to gauge just how much has changed in her mother.

One aspect that is certainly constant throughout her life, and I feel is particularly defining to her character, is her obsession with the traditions, customs, and expectations of her homeland.  It’s as if Brave left China only in the physical sense, her heart and mind still dwells 7,000 miles away.  She denounces the United States as a “terrible ghost country, where a human being works her life away”.  She claims that when “In China, I never even had to hang up my own clothes”.  She champions her life in China, expresses her regret for leaving it in the first place, but fails to mention the circumstances that brought her to America; the violence, injustice, isolation, and suspension of life brought along with the onset of Communism.  This aspect is completely absent from Brave Orchid’s psyche, as he persistent in her beliefs that China has not changed, only she has.

What is even more problematic is her insistence on following the traditions of her past in a country that does not recognize such actions.  In the case of her sister, abandoned by her husband, left to live in solitude in China, Brave Orchid relies on the customs of China, that a man is obligated to his wife and forces her to confront the man who left her decades prior.  However Brave does not recognize that her husband has adopted an American life, put China behind him and chose to live in the present, and expects him to reform to the expectations of his native land.

This is particularly troubling for Maxine as her mother encourages her to adopt these same beliefs and show reverence for a “home” that she has never seen.  She is forced to deal with the delusions of her mother, decipher what is fact and what is false, see the living and breathing individuals that her mother simply refers to as ghosts, and forge a life for herself that is separate from the delusional expectations of her mother.

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