Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The themes and meanings of Tripmaster Monkey are derived from the character of Wittman as an artist and a Chinese American. As an apprentice to the art of writing, Wittman is sufficiently prepared—even tediously erudite—for his calling, but he has yet to find a voice to win recognition. Kingston’s constant reference to The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge is a reminder of this lonely struggle. This struggle is set back, early in the novel, by Wittman’s failure to impress Nanci Lee with his poetry and by the realization that even a published Yale Younger Poet is going nowhere and has abandoned poetry altogether. With his sense of alienation compounded by such loneliness, his identity crisis as a writer intensifies. Fortunately, however, Wittman’s artistic career is saved by his own cultural heritage and family upbringing, the common denominator of which is the folk tradition. The Cantonese opera, the cultural fabric that sustained generations of Chinese Americans (who in turn have helped to shape America into the country it is), contains materials from Chinese novels that can somehow be used to address the issues of the times; the form, however, has fallen into oblivion. Wittman’s genius lies in the realization that he is the artist who could rebuild the Pear Garden (the Chinese theater) in the West and give a new life to this theater. Creating order out of the chaos of his life and his world, he has launched a communal play with a...

(The entire section is 534 words.)

Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In 1782 in his collection of essays on American life, Letters from an American Farmer, Michel Crevecoeur posed the question, "What...

(The entire section is 893 words.)