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 trickster, to similar traditions in Chinese legend.
Griever is essentially a tale about its protagonist’s experiences in China during the period leading up to the Tiananmen Square uprising. Vizenor does not relate these experiences linearly but rather focuses on Griever de Hocus, a trickster whose last name suggests the sort of role he...
(The entire section is 742 words.)
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Hochbruck, Wolfgang. “Breaking Away: The Novels of Gerald Vizenor.” World Literature Today 66 (Spring, 1992): 274-278. Succinct but penetrating. Hochbruck has a comprehensive view of Vizenor’s fiction. Shows how Vizenor bolts from literary conventions.
Lowe, John. “Monkey Kings and Mojo: Postmodern Ethnic Humor in Kingston, Reed, and Vizenor.” Melus 21 (Winter, 1996): 103-126. Lowe attempts to correct errors in definitions of postmodernism by providing comparative readings of works by Ishmael Reed, Gerald Vizenor, and Maxine Hong Kingston. He focuses on the nature, goals, and types of humors used in the three books, as well as general and social functions of postmodern writing.
Martin, Calvin, ed. The American Indian and the Problem of History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. Demonstrates how revisionist history is at the heart of much Native American writing. Places Vizenor high among those who use history in imaginative and sometimes fanciful ways. One of the more balanced discussions of Vizenor.
Rigal-Cellard, Bernadette. “Vizenor’s Griever: A Post-Modernist Little Red Book of Cocks, Tricksters, and Colonists.” In New Voices in Native American Literary Criticism, edited by Arnold Krupat. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993. This in-depth critical collection focuses on four points: “Griever, the Trickster of the In-Between”; “Socialist China As the Signifier for Mind Colonization”; “Intertextuality and the Pilgrimage Strategy”; and “The Originality of Griever: Language and Text.”
Vizenor, Gerald. “Head Water: An Interview with Gerald Vizenor.” Interview by Larry McCaffrey and Tom Marshall. Chicago Review 39 (1993): 50-54. In this revealing interview, Vizenor discusses Griever and The Heirs of Columbus. He explains his use of the word “survivance” and addresses the idea of the trickster or mind monkey inspired by the Monkey King opera in China.