A symbol is a concrete object which stands for the abstract. Throughout Maxine Kingston's "The Woman Warrior", a multitude of symbols are utilized to subtly express the author's underlying messages.
One of the most strikingly apparent symbols encountered in chapter 1 is the circle. "The round moon cakes and round doorways, the round tables of graduated sizes that fit one roundness inside another, round windows and rice bowls - these talismans had lost their power to warn this family of the law, a family must be whole, faithfully keeping the descent line by having sons to feed the old and the dead, who in turn look after the family. The villagers came to show my aunt and her lover-in-hiding a broken house (14)." These round objects symbolize the dependence of each member of the family upon one another. They are much like spokes on a bicycle tire, for with one spoke missing and not supporting the others, the tire will collapse into oblivion.
The same is true with these round objects. If a slice is taken out of the circle, what is left? Merely a odd-shaped lump that isn't as stable as a circle. Maxine Kingston is trying to exemplify the notion that her family was like a circular bicycle tire with everyone dependent on the next for food and other necessities. However, by having a fatherless child, the "no name woman" didn't "faithfully keep the descent line by having sons to feed the old and the dead, who in turn look after the family (14)."
Maxine Kingston's mother is shown to be an impeccably strong woman throughout this chapter. For instance, her ascetic qualities are displayed when Maxine states, "She will add nothing unless powered by Necessity, a riverbank that guides her life. She plants vegetable gardens...