Tripmaster Monkey Essay, Research Paper
Wittman uses theatre throughout the book Tripmaster Monkey to get back to his cultural roots and Asian culture. He is trying to find himself through theatre and to open up a new avenue for his people. There are numerous examples of this throughout the book as he is writing his play and incorporating the old (legends and myths) with the new (contemporary times).
The first significant reference to legend occurs when Wittman is putting his entire night s worth of writing into the incinerator (42). As he does so, he reflects on the arrival of Monkey, Tripitaka and friends at the Western Paradise. They secure the sacred scriptures, and are on their way home to china when curious Monkey takes a peek at the books, only to find that the pages are blank. They return to Paradise to complain, and because their spiritual incapacity makes hem unable to absorb the truths of a blank text, are given pages with writing on them. But it turns out that the Heart Sutra s wisdom concerns the emptiness of inherent existence, and the blank text was the right way to express that truth after all. Kingston is illustrating the frustration Wittman feels at having to put into words the truths that are obvious to him.
At another point in the book, Wittman recalls when the Monkey learns his position in Heaven (61). Monkey is ecstatic to have a place in Heaven, an important role to play, but once he realizes that his Appointment to Pi-ma-w_n really means shit shoveler for the Divine Horse Stables, he quits Heaven and returns to the Monkey Kingdom. This is the role Wittman sees the Chinese stuck with: happy to have a role in the American community, but sickeningly disappointed when they find out how small and degrading that role really is. When he returns to the department store, he impulsively mates a toy monkey with a Barbie doll, reflecting his opinion of Mattel (64). This moment also allows Kingston to foreshadow with irony Wittman s later relationship with Ta_a. Their relationship illustrates his insecurities about not being American enough unless he is dating a white woman insecurity exacerbated by Nanci, his ideal Asian woman, who rejects him.
Wittman a fifth generation native Californian, is concerned to the point of paranoia about the lack of a vibrant Chinese culture tradition to represent Chinese Americans within the context of greater America (41). Where s your jazz? Our Jive? Our contribution? he asks. He s not lazy. The reason he doesn t have right livelihood is that our theater is dead (27, 249). The traditional theater is dead, and with it, the Chinese community? He is concerned with how the Chinese community is perceived. Americans, Wittman thinks, view Chinese as gamblers, producers of cheap food and martial arts movies. The Chinese have been unfavorably represented in Western media since Kipling (298-299). He is also concerned with how the community perceives itself, how they can transform their tradition and move from a hyphenate existence to solid citizenship (293).
Whether his is reading James Baldwin to his audience, or railing against the depiction of Chinese I movies, Wittman is calling his community to become a more visible part of America. He wants his fellow Chinese to impose themselves on the nation in a self-chosen and directed manner in order to become a more integral, contributing, and appreciated part of the national community, as opposed to merely perpetuating a stereotype. He doesn t want to see Hop Sung or Charlie Chan again (310). The problem, he says, is that Chinese faces, and noises are signifiers that do not fit into the context of the American sensibility ye (318). Them must be made to fit: We need to be shown and loved continuously until we re not inscrutable anymore. Wait a minute. Let me try that again. We re not inscrutable at all. We are not inherently unknowable. That s a trip they re laying on us . (310).
Wittman creates a play and a community in the space of a few days. He makes sure that the play contains roles for every one, that they can write their own parts. When he stands on the street corner phoning everyone, he is linking the community together (270). The play is immense. Epic. Our own story won t fit a one-act I m going to bring back to theater the long and continuous play that goes on for a week without repeating itself. Because life is long and continuous. The way theater was in the old days. I mean the old days in this country. The audience comes back every night for the continuation. They live with us (149). The play will be the excuse to bring the community together; it will make them be together night after night. For Wittman, the play is life; the life is the play, long continuous, with no repetitions. He was defining a community, which will meet every night for a season. Community is not built once-and-for-all; people have to imagine, practice, and re-create it (306). This is how Wittman used theater. To bring together his community and to help them get pasted what he thought of as the Asian stereotype.