Kingston learns from her mother that she once had an aunt who killed herself and her newborn baby by jumping into the family well in China. The woman's husband had left the country years before, so the villagers knew that the child was illegitimate. The night that the baby was born, the villagers raided and destroyed the family house, and the woman gave birth in a pigsty. The next morning the mother found her sister-in-law and the baby plugging up the well. The woman had brought such disgrace upon her family that they decided to pretend that she had never been born.
Kingston's mother tells her the story as a cautionary tale, in the years Kingston begins to menstruate. Her mother warns her to be careful lest the same fate fall upon her. Kingston, looking back on the story later, thinks about the world in which she was raised, an "invisible world" of ghosts transposed from Chinese rural life into the emigrants' new homes in America.
Because Kingston cannot ask about her unnamed aunt "who is referred to only as "No-Name Woman" "she invents her own fantasies about why her aunt gave in to her forbidden passions. In one such scenario, her aunt is a timid woman ordered into submission by a rapist. In another, her aunt harbors a slowly blossoming passion, attempting to attract a man's attention by carefully tending to her appearance. Kingston's fantasies must have direct bearing on her own life: she rejects, for example, the idea the idea that her aunt was a wild woman of loose morals. Instead, her aunt's greatest crime "one with which Kingston identifies "was acting on her private interests, stepping out of the role Chinese society and traditions had proscribed for her. Such traditions, Kingston says, were thought of as necessary to ensure village stability, especially when the villagers were all related in some way. Any sexual passion could lead to adultery or incest and therefore threatened the social order.