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Invitation to World Literature

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Key Teaching Points and Discussion Prompts

Characters

  1. If Monkey is a novel version of the story of Tripitaka and his wondrous journey, why is the first part of the novel all about the Stone Monkey King, and why does he continue to dominate the story even after the journey to the West has begun?
  2. Why is the hero a monkey? Do you feel there is some special significance to making this animal the lead character?
  3. If you read Monkey as an allegory, where Tripitaka, Monkey, Sandy, and Pigsy each represent a part of human nature, what do you think each character represents?
  4. Tripitaka receives or experiences enlightenment in Chapter 28, as the travelers cross the great river. "He had discarded his earthly body, he was cleansed from the corruption of the senses… his was now the transcendent wisdom that leads to the Further Shore, the mastery that knows no bounds." Does Tripitaka seem different from this point, the moment all Buddhists aspire to? How so, or why not?
  5. At the end of the book, Monkey is made a Buddha — Buddha Victorious in Strife. Do you think his fighting and tricking days are truly over?
  6. Who are some of your favorite characters in the story?

Plot Actions

  1. Do the challenges and adventures the four travelers have on their journey to India move the plot forward, or simply provide entertainment for the reader?
  2. Knowing the importance of the cycle of birth and rebirth to Buddhism, explain why it is so important that Tripitaka's father saved the golden carp — to him, to the carp, and eventually to Tripitaka.
  3. What are some of your favorite adventures?

Themes

  1. One of the teachings of Buddhism is that no action is accidental — all actions come from an intent in the mind, even an unconscious one. How does this explain the situations of Pigsy and Sandy?
  2. What is the cause of almost all the misfortune that people and other creatures experience in the book? What might this mean? Do you view this differently from the way you imagine the first readers might have?

Discussion Prompts to Encourage Critical Thinking

  1. Tripitaka is pure in spirit, which is a quality that protects him from some dangers but not all. He could not have made the journey to India without the brute strength of his disciples to help him, and he is very fearful and prone to despair, often crying when dangers or challenges appear. Do you accept Tripitaka as a hero? Why or why not?
  2. What do you think of the blank pieces of parchment that Ananda and Kaspaya, Buddha's servants, give Tripitaka in place of the real scriptures he came for? Do they symbolize the Buddhist embrace of emptiness that comes with putting aside all desire, or is it just another test of Tripitaka's worthiness?
  3. What do you think is Monkey's most important quality — his strength and supernatural powers, his pride, or his desire for illumination?
  4. How does reading Monkey change or inform your view of Chinese culture and society?
  5. Why do so many human and supernatural beings rely on trickery? Was it perhaps the poor person's only weapon in a strict class society, or a sign of intelligence, or ambition? Or was it a way to change one's destiny and cycle of rebirths?
  6. Monkey is a trickster, a character type found in the literature of many cultures. Are there other tricksters in the works in this series? Could Odysseus in The Odyssey be considered a trickster? How about characters in Popol Vuh? Why do such characters find their way into stories?
  7. Who would you consider the hero of this work: Monkey or Tripitaka? Odysseus is hero of The Odyssey but is he most akin to the monk or the monkey?