Wittman Ah Sing
Wittman Ah Sing, a presumptive Chinese American poet and playwright, a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. Wittman is a tall, skinny, long-haired, black-clad, manic storyteller with a beatnik penchant for attacking establishment values in favor of experimenting with personal visionary states sometimes augmented by drugs and music. After being fired from his job as a toy department clerk in a large retail store, throughout most of the novel Wittman is devoted to a double quest: acquiring unemployment compensation and putting on a marathon play incorporating characters from two Chinese classics, the war epic The Romance of the Three Kingdoms by fourteenth century author Lo Kuan-chung and the equally monumental narrative Journey to the West by sixteenth century writer Wu Ch’eng-en. In the second of those works, a Buddhist priest named Hsuan-tsang and his supernatural companion Monkey, the most famous comic figure in Chinese literature, survive a number of fantastic adventures on their travels from China to India. Similarly, Wittman’s large-scale stage production as well as his entire narrative take on, through the power of his imagination and the magic of his wordplay, aspects of the real and the fanciful. Like the legendary Monkey, Wittman is a trickster who, through the agencies of roleplaying and verbal dexterity, transcends social rules and restrictions to tap into what psychologist Carl Jung referred to as the collective unconscious. In this case, Wittman examines ethnic stereotypes and, in so...
(The entire section is 646 words.)