Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In order to comprehend Griever: An American Monkey King in China, Western readers must consider Vizenor’s statement that tragedy is a Western invention. Native American tales emphasize the comic with little overlapping toward the tragic. With this in mind, one can consider Griever de Hocus (as in Hokus-Pokus) the sort of trickster protagonist Vizenor set out to create.
Griever, a Native American teacher, himself a consummate trickster, finds himself teaching at Tianjin University in China, just as Vizenor, also a consummate trickster, did for a while in 1983. Griever considers himself a reincarnation of the legendary Chinese Monkey King. He has arrived in China at the precise moment that a surge toward Western-style capitalism and consumerism has been loosed upon the country, transforming it from a communistic to a capitalistic state.
Having little allegiance either to Western values or the communist state, Griever, in a series of lively adventures, has a light-hearted affair with the daughter of a government official. The affair takes an ominous turn when the young woman becomes pregnant and is murdered.
Vizenor, well schooled in ancient literature, employs his broad background to shape his story. He draws on a classical Chinese story, “Journey to the West,” and a version of the story, “Monkey,” to structure his own tale. In “Monkey,” the title character is born when a huge boulder the gods have impregnated...
(The entire section is 451 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Early in Griever: An American Monkey King in China, Gerald Vizenor informs his readers that “imagination is the real world, all the rest is bad television.” Four pages later, he reinforces this contention, which is essential to an understanding of what Vizenor hopes to accomplish artistically: Imagination, he writes “is what burns in humans. We are not methods to be discovered, we are not freeze-dried methodologies. We remember dreams, never data, at the wild end.” As Griever alternates between reality and fantasy, between consciousness and the dream world, readers need to remember these early admonitions. They have direct artistic import and, in light of Vizenor’s subject, penetrating political implications.
Based on several months of language teaching that Vizenor and his wife did in post-Maoist Tianjin, China, Griever continually moves between documentable history and overt fantasy. This is one of the few novels that provides readers with a bibliography of historical sources in its final pages.
One might call Griever a nonfiction novel, a term applied by critics to such works as Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1966). Yet Vizenor, unlike Capote, departs unapologetically from his facts, intermixing reveries with consciousness; he thereby creates a fantastic tale that borrows from his traditions as a “crossbreed” Chippewa, and he links these traditions, particularly that of the...
(The entire section is 742 words.)