What do shoes symbolize, or represent, to the Monkey King?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Shoes represent the Monkey King's insecurity about being a monkey in the face of other gods. As the sovereign ruler of flower-fruit mountain, the Monkey King has no need for shoes. He climbs and practices Kung Fu far more comfortably without them, as do all of the monkey citizens of...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Shoes represent the Monkey King's insecurity about being a monkey in the face of other gods.

As the sovereign ruler of flower-fruit mountain, the Monkey King has no need for shoes. He climbs and practices Kung Fu far more comfortably without them, as do all of the monkey citizens of the mountain. Being a master of the discipline of heavenly sense, the Monkey King smells a fantastic dinner party one evening and sets off on his cloud steed.

After waiting patiently in line, a great difficulty for a monkey, he is denied at the entrance because of his lack of shoes. Soon he finds many of the gods attending mocking him. The Monkey King is so shaken by the affair that he attacks all attendees in frustration and the very next day makes it law that all monkeys on flower-fruit mountain must wear shoes.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Monkey King's shoes are a symbol of his negative feelings as an 'other,' as well as the extent to which he will go in order to feel a part of the larger shoe-wearing culture in which he suddenly finds himself.

As a monkey, the Monkey King is happy and comfortable in bare feet; he can do everything he wants to do in bare feet, and his feet support him perfectly well without any sort of protective or decorative covering. Once he finds himself in a shoe-wearing society, however, the Monkey King suddenly questions his bare feet, and though they have served him perfectly well until this point, he feels unsatisfied and ashamed of them. Shoes not only help the Monkey King feel like he fits in with the others, they also help him avoid feeling shame at who he really is, which is a bare footed monkey king.

This experience with "otherness" that leads the Monkey King to alter his appearance and to change his previously comfortable and appropriate way of life has a thematic connection to this graphic novel. Many individuals who feel like an "other" experience shame over who they are, and like the Monkey King, they adopt practices of the mainstream culture that they think will moderate this feeling of shame. The sad irony of this situation exists in the fact that bare feet are perfect, and the existence of shoes shouldn't mean that bare feet are suddenly imperfect.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

American Born Chinese, by Gene Kuen Yang, is a graphic novel consisting of three intertwined tales about the lengths people will go to in order to fit in and belong.

One such character, a deity called the Monkey King, decides to change himself by learning kung fu and wearing shoes so that he will no longer be identified as a monkey. He wants to be seen as equal to the other gods and goddesses in Heaven (referring to himself as "The Great Sage, Equal of Heaven") and become someone other than who he truly is—a monkey.

It all started when he was unable to attend the party with the other gods and goddesses because he was a monkey and wasn't wearing shoes. So, it was natural for him to think that shoes were important in helping him fit in. In this way, the shoes are symbolic of his desire for acceptance. As monkeys do not wear shoes, he believes that if he wears them and is seen to be wearing them (much like a mask) he will be taken seriously as "The Great Sage, Equal of Heaven."

Of course, simply wearing shoes does not convince anyone that he is not a monkey, particularly when out of pure frustration he physically assaults everyone who doesn't agree. It's not until God and the monk point out that being a monkey is awesome that he relents and takes off the shoes, finally enjoying being himself.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team