Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

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...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Chang, Hsiao-hing. “Gender Crossing in Maxine Hong Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey.MELUS 22 (Spring, 1997): 15-34. Chang explores the ways in which Kingston intertwines two kinds of gender crossing: masculine gender anxiety and feminine blurring of gender boundaries. Within this context, Chang discusses Kingston’s use of psychic and linguistic dislocations to destablize fact/fiction, history/myth, and Chinese/American polarities.

Furth, Isabella. “Bee-e-een! Nation, Transformation, and the Hyphen of Ethnicity in Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey.Modern Fiction Studies 40 (Spring, 1994): 33-49. Furth explores the continuous transformations and complex relations between nation, ethnicity, and wounds caused by separation in the world Kingston has created. She focuses on the hyphen, a symbol of both the blending and distinctiveness of the Chinese and American cultures.

Ling, Amy. Between Worlds: Women Writers of Chinese Ancestry. New York: Pergamon Press, 1990. Contains an informative section on Tripmaster Monkey. The book is also an excellent introduction to the tradition behind Kingston.

Lowe, John. “Monkey Kings and Mojo: Postmodern Ethnic Humor in Kingston, Reed, and Vizenor.” MELUS 21 (Winter, 1996): 103-126. Lowe’s examination reveals Kingston, Vizenor, and Reed’s novels as examples of ethnic humor from a postmodern perspective. Focusing on the trickster character in each novel, he demonstrates that the works owe much to the folklore tradition of Chinese, Native American, and African cultures.

Schueller, Malini J. “Theorizing Ethnicity and Subjectivity: Maxine Hong Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey and Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club.Genders (Winter, 1992): 72-85. Schueller presents an analysis of Kingston and Tan’s novels, focusing on the common theme of discovering a feminine identity that does not marginalize racial or ethnic orientations.

Tanner, James T. F. “Walt Whitman’s Presence in Maxine Hong Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book.MELUS 20 (Winter, 1995): 61-74. Tanner explores the numerous references to Walt Whitman in Kingston’s novel. He particularly focuses on the main character, Whitman Ah Sing, and demonstrates how the character’s mottos follow the poet’s own ideas for America.