(Maxine Hong Kingston)
In Maxine Hong Kingston's autobiographical piece "Silence", she describes her inability to speak English when she was in grade school. Kindergarten was the birthplace of her silence because she was a Chinese girl attending an American school. She was very embarrassed of her inability, and when moments came up where she had to speak, "self-disgust" filled her day because of that squeaky voice she possessed (422). Kingston notes that she never talked to anyone at school for her first year of silence, except for one or two other Chinese kids in her class. Maxine's sister, who was even worse than she was, stayed almost completely silent for three years. Both went to the same school and were in the same second grade class because Maxine had flunked kindergarten.
The first time Kingston had to speak English in kindergarten was the moment silence infiltrated her world. Simple dialogue such as "hello" or asking for directions was hell for her because people usually couldn't hear her the first time she asked, and her voice became weaker every time she tried to repeat the question (422). No matter what, speaking English just shattered her self-esteem.
Maxine covered her school artwork with black paint. In a sense, she was creating something beautiful that symbolized her futuristic ability to speak English well, then covering it with black paint that symbolized a curtain that would, in time, rise and reveal her artwork of exceptional English dialogue. Her teachers notified her parents of the paintings, but they could not understand English. So, Kingston's parents thought of it as something bad, according to the seriousness of the teachers' expressions about them. As her father said, "the parents and teachers of criminals were executed" (423).
Though Maxine was quiet in American school, it didn't mean that she was quiet in Chinese school which started after American school at 5:00pm and ended at 7:30pm. This was her...
Kingston, Maxine Hong. "Silence."
One Hundred Great Essays. Ed. Robert Diyanni.
New York: Longman, 2002. 422-426
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