Although the novel contains several delightful characters, it is Wittman who is the focus throughout; all the others are seen through his eyes. Hence, the entire novel can be regarded as an extended character study of Wittman, with the other characters shedding light on his life and illustrating his philosophy. In characterizing Wittman, Kingston not only captures Wittman in action, but also relies heavily on the prolific verbalization of his inner consciousness.
On the social level, Wittman is characterized as both a misfit and a gadfly with a cause. Unlike his fellow Asian Americans such as Lance, Nanci Lee, and Judy Louis, he is ill prepared, both intellectually and academically, for a stereotypical career (such as engineering) that would readily earn him success and recognition from his peers, parents, relatives, and the mainstream society. This apparent failure is partly responsible for his inferiority complex (and megalomania), which he often exploits by adopting a hostile stance toward the people he comes across, including the new Chinese immigrants in the streets, the customers at the department store, and even his friends at Lance’s party. Yet although his life is a shambles, like many other Americans of his generation who defy the draft in order not to fight an unacceptable war in Vietnam, Wittman also stands on a moral high ground, which makes his cynicism an act of courageous rebellion. While his witty diatribes against the stereotyping of...
(The entire section is 469 words.)