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Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book and The Bridegroom: Stories

Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book and The Bridegroom: Stories

Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book by Maxine Hong Kingston and The Bridegroom: Stories by Ha Jin are two literary works depicting Eastern culture. Being published by Vintage Books in 1989, Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book reveals many features of postmodernism such as the steam of consciousness. The other book, The Bridegroom: Stories was first published by Pantheon Books in 2000. Both writings share the themes of identity, injustice, prejudices, and the need of change. Representing experience of the Chinese people within and out of China, Kingston and Jin’s literary works critically examine the society and political powers governing it. At the same time, the two works differ by literary devices, narrative techniques, and writing style. Therefore, Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book and The Bridegroom: Stories are two innovative literary works that retell stories of Chinese people, share similar themes, and vary by narrative style and literary means.

The story of Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book is set in San Francisco during the 1960s. A young man, Wittman Ah Sing, is the main character of the story who attempts to assert his identity. Wittman is a Chinese American rejecting his cultural heritage and attempting to completely assimilate the United States. At the beginning of the novel, the writer depicts the youngster as a depressive student of the University of California who constantly plans to commit suicide after graduation. Wittman works part-time as a toy salesman, but he is soon fired because of obscene positioning of a wind-up monkey toy and Barbie doll in front of a customer. After the particular event, his girlfriend, Nanci Lee ends their relationship. Further, the protagonist expresses his desire to become a writer, and thus joins the Beatnik movement. The man composes a play and briefly performs it at a party. Than, he walks home with a woman, Taña De Weese, whom he eventually marries in order not to fight in the Vietnam War. Realizing that he should perform the play, Wittman sets it at a local community center. At the end of the story, he gives a monologue which demonstrates that the man has accepted his heritage.

The Bridegroom: Stories consists of twelve short stories, each depicting  between capitalism and communism. All the narratives take place in the Muji City, a small town near the industrial center of Harbin. The collection of stories can be distinguished by a variety of compelling situations, thought-provoking themes, and bright characters. The writer deliberately focuses on average citizens to show the struggle between an ordinary person and the system. Thus, in the first story, “Saboteur,” the author portrays a conflict between a university professor and two police officers. Thus, a policeman throws a bowl of tea at processor’s feet and blames the latter for disrupting public order and puts him in jail. Another short story of the collection, “Alive,” portrays a massive earthquake and the program it prompts. The program “Form New Families” is based on linking adult survivors into married pairs to adopt children. However, when a victim of the earthquake suffering from amnesia begins to recall his life, he realizes that he has families in two different towns. The book also narrates a story of a man who appears to be homosexual (“The Bridegroom”), a joke that eventually caused the imprisonment of its teller (“A Bad Joke”), and an actor who plays a mythic tiger fighter, Wu Song, and eventually believes that he is truly that hero (“A Tiger-Fighter is Hard to Find”).

At the same time, both Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book and The Bridegroom: Stories develop the theme of injustice. In his literary work, Kingston depicts Wittman as a representative of Asian-Americans. He personifies the minority often treated unjust by the dominant society. The protagonist of the story attempts to create a community that will include every person regardless of his or her origin or nationality. As a young playwright, Wittman works to raise the consciousness of the community (Kingston). In this respect, the character can be regarded as a political thinker whose efforts will eventually lead to the Asian American Movement. Although it is hard for Wittman to acknowledge his culture, he eventually becomes increasingly conscious of it. As a playwright and artist, the character sees art, specifically his play, as a means to change the particular stereotypical treatment of Asian people. According to Irma Maini, “Wittman’s growth as an artist is the growing political consciousness of oppressive racial definitions in the Asian American community” (6). Hence, Wittman as a representative of the progressive youth expresses his vision of social change. Similarly to Kingston’s novel, Jin’s collection of short stories develops the theme of injustice. For example, in the short story “Saboteur,” the author depicts an accident that happened to a university professor. The latter was unjustly imprisoned and then beaten by police officers for refusing to confess to the offence. Additionally, the main character of “The Bridegroom” also suffers injustice. Being a homosexual, the man is sentenced to treatment in a mental hospital until recovery. The irony of the story is that physicians believe homosexuality is incurable, and thus the character could stay in the hospital till the end of his days (Jin; Lowe 105). Thus, unjust treatment of people and lack of understanding are key topics of the two analyzed literary works.

Furthermore, Kingston and Jin’s main characters encounter certain prejudices. In Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book, the protagonist is concerned about discrimination against Asian-Americans in the United States. In this respect, the young student believes that there is a place for every person in America. According to Kingston, “Each member of the Tyrone family or the Lomans can be a different color” (52). Wittman shares this thought with the Yale Younger Poet, who as an artist should not be limited by racial prejudices. Thus, the depiction of the particular theme shows the author’s claim for social changes in America. Ha Jin in his short stories also raises the theme of prejudice. In “After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town,” the protagonist is misunderstood by the locals for opening a fast-food cafe and offering American fried chickens to the customers. The collision between the two cultures is similar to the experience of Wittman from Kingston’s novel. Moreover, in “Saboteur,” the university professor suffers prejudiced treatment because he belongs to the Communist Party. To be released from the jail, the character has to confess to the crime he has not committed. In “A Bad Joke,”  two peasants are imprisoned for making controversial jokes of their chairman. The two characters could not afford shoes, and when they walked out the store, one of them said, “Damn, all prices go up but our chairman never grows” (Jin 200). The joke of two peasants was misinterpreted. As a result, they are punished for mocking the officials who cannot be ridiculed. Thus, the characters of Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book and The Bridegroom: Stories face either racial or political prejudices.

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At the same time, the two literary works can be contrasted in terms of literary devices the writers apply. For example, in Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book, the author widely uses allusions, calling other works of literature to mind. The name of the main character, Wittman, is an allusion to the famous American writer Walt Whitman. Similar to the American poet, Kingston’s protagonist is an innovator and fighter for justice. Moreover, Kingston used allusions to literary texts of different genres, which he transformed in accordance to the plot of his narrative. According to Royal, “The most apparent of these are the Chinese epic tales of The Water Margin, The Three Kingdoms, The Dream of the Red Chamber, and Journey to the West (149). Although the author refers to the above-mentioned writings, it is hard for the reader not to get lost in the story. Placing Chinese workers withing the American context, Kingston reinvents their ethnicity. At the same time, the novel also includes allusions to classic American writings. For example, the writer refers to Moby-Dick, Song of Myself, Hamlet, and Ulysses (Royal 150; Lowe 104). On the contrary, Jin frequently uses irony in his collection of short stories. For instance, in “A Bad Joke,” the two peasants differ in height – one of them is short while the other is tall. Moreover, the two characters make a joke about the height of their chairman. The irony is that appearance often contradicts with the person’s character. In “Saboteur,” the university professor apologizes for the deed done by the policeman, specifically the tea thrown to his feet. It is ironical because the man did nothing, and yet he was imprisoned. Similar to the two peasants, inactivity leads to adverse consequences for many Jin’s characters.

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Moreover, the two literary works are contrasted by the narrative technique and style. Thus, Kingston’s novel can be regarded as a mixture of allusions, logical narrative, objective description, and interior monologue. Revealing Wittman’s story, the author applies the stream of consciousness, creating a whirl of words and images. Although the particular technique is a characteristic feature of Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book, it may exhaust the reader, disorienting him or her throughout the reading. Thus, the novel is a surrealistic tale that represents the character’s search for identity and evokes the themes of injustice and prejudice (Royal 142). On the contrary, Jin’s collection of short stories is distinguished by logical narrative. The author tells his stories in a modest documentary style that varies from Kingston’s surrealistic portrayal. The restrained writing can be compared to the bureaucratically suppressed society where certain emotions and feelings are illegal (Yunzi 206). At the same time, all twelve stories take place in one town, but each of them reveals a specific situation which best demonstrates Eastern culture. Hence, Jin’s writing style is straightforward, while Kingston’s narrative sometimes lacks logic, overlapping between the stream of conscious with author’s allusions to other literary works.

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Therefore, Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book and The Bridegroom: Stories are two modern literary works that portray experience of Chinese people within China as well as in the United States. The writings demonstrate that regardless of location, characters experience injustice and prejudices due to their social, political, or racial belonging. In this respect, Jin and Kingston’s books share similar themes, specifically unjust treatment, prejudicial attitudes, and social change. At the same time, the main difference between Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book and The Bridegroom: Stories lies in the writing style of the literary works. While Kingston refers to the steam of consciousness, Jin adopts a logical and straightforward writing style. In addition, Kingston’s novel is distinguished by the wide use of allusions, while Jin conveys his messages using irony. All in all, both Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book and The Bridegroom: Stories are thought-provoking and thrilling modern books that force the reader to ponder on topical issues as well as create his or her own attitude towards the writer’s style of narrative.