The Journey to the West Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In the beginning there is a rock. The rock gives birth to a stone egg, and the egg develops into the shape of a monkey. The monkey becomes alive and plays with other monkeys. He is made their king.

One day, troubled by the thought of death, he bids farewell to the monkey tribe and sets out on a journey to seek immortality. He becomes a pupil of the Patriarch Subodhi, from whom he learns seventy-two transformations and the cloud trapeze. When he shows off his newly learned magic of transformation by changing into a pine tree, this public display of magic enrages his master, who disowns him. Monkey goes back to his cave, but now he does not have to travel over mountains and rivers. One leap carries him head over heels for 108,000 leagues.

He kills the demon who molested his “little ones” during his absence. He gets the magic iron staff from the Sea Treasury of the Dragon King. The weapon can shrink, at his will, to the size of an embroidery needle. Despite all of these powers, however, his allotted life span of 342 years comes to an end. In a dream he is taken to the Land of Darkness. Furiously, he crosses out his name in the Registers of Death, together with whatever names of other monkeys he can find.

His meddling at the Palace of the Dragon King and the Court of Death is reported to the Jade Emperor. Monkey is summoned to Heaven so that he can be constantly watched. At first he is happy to have an appointment from the emperor, but upon learning how humble his position as groom in the heavenly stables really is, he returns to his monkeys.

As a rebel, he calls himself “Great Sage, Equal of Heaven,” and he defeats the heavenly hosts sent off to arrest him. The Jade Emperor consents to appoint him to the rank he wishes. Then he crashes the Peach Banquet, to which he was not invited. By the joint effort of the gods he is caught and imprisoned in the crucible of Lao Tzu, where for forty-nine days he is burned with alchemical fire before he escapes. It seems that nothing can stop him until the Buddha comes to help the heavenly powers. Monkey is placed under a five-peaked mountain, originally the five fingers of the Buddha’s hand, where he is to serve his penance.

The Buddha wishes that some believer from sinful China would come to the Western Continent to fetch the True Scriptures. Kuan-yin volunteers to help someone accomplish this. The someone is Hsüan Tsang. His father, a young scholar, was murdered while on his way to take up his duties as governor of Chiang-chou. The murderer, a ferryman, assumes the dead man’s name and takes his wife and office. The wife would have committed suicide were it not for her unborn child. Immediately after the boy is born, she ties him to a plank with a letter written in blood tucked to his breast and pushes the plank into the river. The child is picked up by the abbot of a temple, who learns the tragic story of the boy’s birth from the blood letter.

Hsüan Tsang is brought up as a monk. He does not know of his parentage until he is eighteen years old; then he meets his mother and makes plans to avenge his father. The false governor is executed, on the spot where he committed his evil deed. Suddenly a body comes floating up through the water. It is Hsüan Tsang’s father, whom everyone thought dead but who was saved by the Dragon King of the River. Thus the family is reunited. Hsüan Tsang chooses to remain a monk.

Emperor T’ai Tsung of T’ang makes a...

(The entire section is 1421 words.)