In The House of The Tiger: A Representation of Woman’s Fiction

In her novel, In the House of the Tiger, Jessie Juliet Knox uses the literary form of “woman’s fiction” as a way to exemplify and reform the corrupted system many Chinese girls had to experience as they were ruthlessly kidnapped, traded, and sold into the slave market. One scholar who has explored the genre of woman’s fiction in different novels from the 19th century is Nina Baym. In her book, Woman’s Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America, 1820-1870, Baym defines woman’s fiction as being literature that is written by women, addressed to women, and tell a particular story about women(22). The genre of woman’s fiction focuses on the “trials and triumph” of a heroine who is overwhelmed by extreme hardships, but  finds within herself the qualities of intelligence, will, resourcefulness, and courage to overcome them(22). Baym also  expresses  the genre of woman’s fiction is centered on presenting different issues like poverty, coarseness, brutality, exploitation, treachery, pettiness, illness, exhaustion, degradation, and suffering within the heroine to bring about some type of social change(24). Though Baym highlights conventions of woman’s fiction that were used in novels from the 1800’s, authors like Knox were aware that these techniques were still recognizable by readers in the 20th century. Because she knew her audience would be familiar with this literary genre, Knox used many characteristics of woman’s fiction to influence women as well as men that they needed to help stop Chinese slavery that was occurring in the United States.  Knox purposely molded her novel to include elements of woman’s fiction not only to promote the elimination of Chinese slavery in the United States, but also to reform anti-Chinese attitudes by making her readers see the horrendous life these Chinese slaves were experiencing.

**Reader’s Note: You can click on the number by the quotes to view the actual passages from In the House of the Tiger.

The Orphaned Heroine 

According to Nina Baym, there are many conventions in woman’s fiction that are used to develop the main heroine. Throughout the novel, the main heroine is typically a deprived underdog who transforms into a strong and courageous character. In Knox’s novel readers are able to see that Knox embodies characteristics of woman’s fiction into her main heroine Ah Ching, a Chinese girl who is forced into domestic slavery, as well as other sub Chinese heroines who also undergo the same tribulations and abusive experiences. One characterization Baym exemplifies in woman’s fiction is that the heroine is usually an orphan who is friendless, poor, and unloved (35). Within In the House of the Tiger, readers see how Knox incorporates this characterization as she presents her main character, Ah Ching, as an orphan who is neglected by her Chinese master.   “Perhaps there is a place for me out there in the big world perhaps there is some one there who would love me, and be kind to me. O’ if I could only get out, I would help all the other poor slaves to be free” (15).   By reading the quote, readers can feel that Ah Ching is in a place that is not in her home with her family. Instantly, readers can get the idea that Ah Ching  is helplessly alone in a place that is  dreadful and abusive. Readers cannot help but sympathize with Ah Ching as the words “love me” and “be kind to me” strike the reader with sympathy and sadness as she expresses her desire to be loved as a child. Not only do readers feel sympathetic because she in unloved and abused, but they also feel distressed as they get a sense that Ah Ching is not the only one being forced into slavery. Analyzing Ah Ching’s language, specifically the last words “other poor slaves to be free,” Knox emphasizes on the idea of freedom as a technique to connect with her American readers. Considering the United States symbolizes freedom, Knox is supporting the idea that Chinese slaves like Ah Ching needed the American people to let go of their anti-Chinese sentiments and help these Chinese girls acquire freedom.

The Abuse and Neglect Inflicted on the Helpless Heroine

Another characteristic that Baym exemplifies in woman’s fiction is that the heroine is usually abused by other people who are more powerful than she is. In this situation, the heroine is confronted with a home that is a place of misery, the feeling of being unloved and unvalued, and being neglected and exploited instead of nurtured by those that should love her (37).  Besides presenting Ah Ching as the main heroine that experiences slavery, Knox also presents minor Chinese heroines that also undergo the same sufferings. In the novel, readers can observe how Little Moon, a four year old Chinese girl, conveys the abuse she experienced as her father sold her to a corrupted Chinese woman to be sold as a domestic slave in the United States. “She only remembered that she had just purchased for ten dollars something that could sell for two thousand, and gold was her god. ‘ If you cry out or speak one world I will put you down in the water, where the sea dragon will eat you up,’ muttered the old hag as she pulled the child along over the gangplank and into the big ship” (39). Instantly, readers can recognize the abuse and neglect Little Moon undergoes from her father and the corrupted Chinese woman. In this passage readers analyze how Little Moon’s father is neglectful; instead of nurturing and caring for his daughter, he sells her for ten dollars. By Knox laying emphasis on the small amount of money Little Moon was sold for, it seems as though Knox tries to make her American readers of the day more aware of the brutal slave system as a way gain support in abolishing the Chinese slave trade. Thus, the image also presents how unloving and gluttonous Little Moon’s father was as he willingly sold and orphaned his daughter for a small amount of money. Another vivid image that is presented in this passage is the abusive power relationship between Little Moon and the violent Chinese woman. By focusing on the metaphoric imagery of the water and the dragon, readers can reinterpret this to realistically mean that the Chinese woman is threatening to throw Little Moon off the ship if she expresses her dreadful situation. Though Knox is not strictly following woman’s fiction by conveying a “miserable home,” what she is conveying is a miserable place where Little Moon is helpless and in danger. Knox’s use of portraying the abusive power relationships between Little Moon, the Chinese father, and the corrupted woman is significant because it brings to life the malicious treatment many Chinese woman and girls had to experience, but more importantly it personifies how heartless and inconsiderate many Chinese people were to Chinese females.

The Help From Others: The Heroine’s Light Out of Darkness

Besides being orphaned and abused, another characteristic Baym argues that is represented in woman’s fiction is that the heroine obtains help from others. Throughout many works of woman’s fiction, Baym expresses the heroine meets people within her community who support, advise, and befriend her. Occasionally, these people intercede to remove the heroine from the unfriendly and abusive environment she is in ( 38). Focusing on the novel, readers see this characteristic of sentimental fiction primarily presented in Donaldina Cameron and other Chinese and American people from the Mission Home who aided in rescuing Chinese slaves . “He will give five thousand dollars for you. Little one I know the life in which they would sell you, and I cannot bear to see this done, and so I intend to save you. If you will come to the foot of these steps to-night at midnight a friend whom you can trust will be there to take you away” (71). In this passage readers are presented with the rescue mission of Tai Loy, a Chinese slave girl, who is going to be sold to another master. By creating this vivid image, Knox embodies how rescues missions had to be done with great caution and watchfulness. Centering on the language of Ah Cheng, the Chinese man who is trying to save Tai Loy, readers cannot help but sense Tai Loy was going to be sold into prostitution. Thus, by the way Knox emphasizes on the words “five thousand dollars,”  she is trying to show her readers that Chinese women and girls were not recognized as human beings, but more like property. Though the passage does not convey any representation of Donaldina Cameron, this passage is important because as the novel progresses, readers observe that Donalidna Cameron becomes a prime figure as she educates, cares, and loves Tai Loy as if she were one of her own. Thus, throughout the novel Knox presents the Mission Home as a place of refuge, security, but most importantly a place of love the Chinese slaves can rely on.  Because Knox presents Donaldina Cameron and other supporters of the Mission Home as the only sources of freedom and security for these Chinese slaves, this was Knox’s way of communicating to her American audience of the 20th century that the United States needed to change their prejudiced attitudes and help these Chinese slaves break free from their evil oppressors.

Men: The Dispensers and Controllers of Money

Throughout In the House of the Tiger, readers come across different Chinese men and women who are the sellers, traders, and buyers of Chinese slaves. According to Baym, in woman’s fiction men are portrayed negatively as they are  the dispensers and controllers of money (43). Knox uses this technique primarily to not only focus on Chinese men (highbinders), but corrupted Chinese women as well to personify how these pitiless Chinese people viewed Chinese girls and women as “their” property. Though Knox does not strictly follow the characteristic of woman’s fiction by only focusing on Chinese men, she does show how Chinese highbinders and woman were the controllers and distributors of Chinese slaves in the slave market. “Well the bargain was completed! The two plotters had just turned to come back, one to claim his new property, and the other to go home and give the commission to the old hag, who was eagerly awaiting him” (202).This passage is important because it exemplifies Ah Fah, another Chinese heroine, who is sold and bought from one highbinder to another. Focusing on the words bargain, property, and commission readers can observe how Knox crafts her language to highlight the dehumanization within the Chinese slave system.  In comparison to the status of black female slaves during the 19th century, many Chinese slaves were not considered to be humans, but more like property as they were bought and forced into domestic and sexual servitude. By using the technique of highlighting Chinese highbinders and women as the controllers of the Chinese slave trade, Knox imposes sympathy on her readers of the day to feel they must help in abolishing the dehumanizing slave system. Knox uses this specific characterization of woman’s fiction as a way to show her readers that among corrupted Chinese men and women, Chinese slaves were stripped away from their humanity.

The Significance of Religion in the Heroine’s Life

One of the last characteristics Baym argues that is momentous in woman’s fiction is the significance of religion in the heroine’s life. The place of religious belief in the heroine’s life is usually centered on God. Upholding religious beliefs, the heroine is provided with inner strength, which enables her to overcome challenges and tribulations (43). Throughout In the House of the Tiger, Knox uses religion as a way to exemplify how some Chinese women and girls relied on God for inner strength to escape their domestic or sexual servitude. “The door was locked and she had the key to that lock. ‘Thank you! Thank you! Beautiful God!’ She hysterically sobbed ; then realizing there not a moment lose, she cast a hurried glance at the barren room and said , ‘ I hate you , prison walls! I hate you, ugly god! I am never going to come again. I am going to find the beautiful new God, who hears me when I talk to Him’” (218-219). In this passage, Louey Ching, a Chinese slave, is thankful because she is finally able to escape from her evil servitude with the help of God. By focusing on the passage, readers are able to analyze how Louey Ching denounces her Chinese God, and in a sense accepts Christianity as her source to escape into the free world. By the use of the condemning language Louey Ching uses, readers get the feeling Chinese Gods were used in a way to make Chinese slaves accept the idea that domestic and sexual servitude was their fate from the Chinese Gods. This passage is also significant because it captures Louey Ching gaining courage by believing in the Christian God who has provided her with strength to leave the Hell she is in. Overall, Knox uses the significance of religion, specifically Christianity, in her novel to emphasize the freedom many Chinese slaves helplessly wished for.

In the House of the Tiger: A Representation of Woman’s Fiction

In the House of the Tigeris a representation of woman’s fiction as it embodies the terrible experiences many Chinese woman and girls had to undergo as they were abused, neglected, and stripped from their humanity. Knox uses many elements of woman’s fiction to create different stories that all connect in representing the immoral slave system that was occurring in San Francisco, California. By highlighting many Chinese heroines within her novel, Knox was able to show her American readers of the day the realities that were occurring in the United States, which was that Chinese slaves were being forced into domestic and sexual slavery.  Knox wrote this novel to act as a catalyst in obtaining help from the American people to abolish the slave system. Though Knox does not literally say Americans should reform their anti-Chinese attitudes in her novel, she does use elements from woman’s fiction to make her readers feel they must reform their anti-Chinese attitudes in order to help these helpless Chinese slaves in restoring their freedom and humanity.

Works Cited:

Baym, Nina. Woman’s Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America, 1820-1870. Cornell UP, 1978. Print.

Knox, Jessie J. In The House of the Tiger. New York& Cincinnati: Library of the University of Michigan, 1911. Making of America Archive. University of Michigan & Cornell University. Web. <>.

Other Useful Source:

Campbell, Donna M. “Literary Movements.” Domestic Fiction, 1830-1860. Washington State University. Web.


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