Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 646
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 doing, redefines for himself and his audience—like his namesake, the nineteenth century American poet Walt Whitman—the nature of both individual and group identity.
Tana Chloe De Weese
Tana Chloe De Weese, an assistant claims adjuster who wants to be a painter. Wittman is attracted to her golden blond beauty. After one night of lovemaking, they are “married” by a draft dodger named Gabe, who carries a card proclaiming himself to be a minister in the Universal Life Church. Tana subsequently is introduced to Wittman’s parents, and the young couple decide to live together, although each tells the other that theirs is not a true, romantic love. Tana informs Wittman that she wants him to be the “wife” and do the housework.
Lance Kamiyama, a Japanese American government worker and Wittman’s erstwhile best friend. As a career-conscious conformist, Lance is a foil to Wittman. Hosting parties for other ambitious young Asian Americans, whom he calls “Young Millionaires,” Lance lives in an impressive Victorian house with his blond wife, Sunny. He tends to underplay the consequences of his ethnicity, having blocked out memories of his childhood in a relocation camp during World War II.
Ruby Ah Sing
Ruby Ah Sing, sometimes called Ruby Long Legs, Wittman’s mother. Ruby, a retired vaudeville song-and-dance performer, spends more time with her female friends than with her eccentric husband. Skeptical of the value of Wittman’s college education, Ruby calls him moong cha cha, or spacy.
Zeppelin Ah Sing
Zeppelin Ah Sing, Wittman’s father, a former huckster of cure-all potions and sidewalk organ grinder whose exotic appearance often makes others think that he is not Chinese but of Italian, Mexican, or gypsy descent. When Wittman was a child, Zeppelin often dressed him as a monkey to collect money from passersby. Now, in retirement, he spends his time with his male cronies at a makeshift fishing camp near the Sacramento River.
PoPo, an elderly theater wardrobe mistress. Wittman thinks of her as his grandmother despite the fact that she is not related to the family by blood. On the pretense of picnicking in the high Sierras, PoPo is abandoned by Ruby and Zeppelin, who have come to see her as a financial burden, but she somehow manages to hitch a ride from a wealthy property owner named Lincoln Fong, who marries her in Reno and bankrolls the production of Wittman’s play.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 323
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.
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