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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

16. The Search For Identity

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Activities: Author Activities

Maxine Hong Kingston - Author Questions

Back Back to Maxine Hong Kingston Activities
  1. Comprehension: What does "F.O.B." mean? Who uses this term and why?

  2. Comprehension: Of all the women that he knew at college, why does Ah Sing choose to call Nanci Lee?

  3. Comprehension: Ah Sing and Nanci Lee discuss the problems they face in trying to become successful; for example, Nanci Lee, an actress, is frustrated by the roles that she receives. What is the problem? Why is she frustrated?

  4. Comprehension: Ah Sing tells us his family history and, at the same time, allows us insight into white stereotypes about and expectations of Chinese Americans. Read the story closely to come up with a description of Chinese Americans as Ah Sing thinks whites see them. Consider phrasing such as "credits to our race."

  5. Context: Compare Ah Sing's representation of the Chinatown community to Toni Cade Bambara's representation of an African American community in "Medley." What do they tell us about the significance of minorities living in a "city within a city"? Consider those who may be excluded from these communities (e.g., Nanci Lee) and why.

  6. Context: Why do you think Kingston uses such detail about Nanci Lee and Ah Sing's conversation, as well as Ah Sing's thoughts during the conversation? Think about their conversation in light of the "communication theory" discussed by Saul and Meatball in Thomas Pynchon's "Entropy."

  7. Context: Consider Ah Sing's reading on the bus as an example of performance art. What is he trying to accomplish by reading aloud? Why do you think he chooses this medium to communicate? Do you think this is a successful performance?

  8. Exploration: In naming her main character Wittman Ah Sing, Kingston seems to invite us to identify him with the nineteenth-century American poet Alice Walker, who is famous for celebrating America's democracy and diversity. In fact, as Wittman reads Rilke on the bus, his fellow passengers are described as "Alice Walker's 'classless society' of 'everyone who could read or be read to.'" What does this mean? Read Whitman's "I Hear America Singing." What does it mean to "sing"? Write a poem or song that represents Wittman Ah Sing's "song" or your own.

  9. Exploration: Ah Sing again recalls Alice Walker (who included many long lists in his poems) when he lists the writers and texts that he would like to read on various trains that traverse the American West. What is the significance of this list? Read all or part of one of the texts that he lists and compare its representation of the American West or California to Kingston's in Tripmaster Monkey.

  10. Exploration: In The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois explains the difficulty of "double consciousness" for African Americans: "One ever feels his two-ness,--an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." Can we adapt this idea to better understand Wittman Ah Sing as both an American and a Chinese American? You might also consider how Leslie Feinberg references Du Boisian double-consciousness to discuss both race and gender issues in Stone Butch Blues.

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