Study Guide

American Born Chinese Coming of Age

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Coming of Age


We never really meet Jin's mother, but we're betting that if she were more a part of the book, she'd be pretty funny. Take this parable she tells Jin: it's all about a mother who keeps moving with her kid because they keep ending up in an environment that distracts her son from a good path in life. They finally end up across the street from a university, so the son ends up studying all the time. It's a funny story because it's so clear what the goal of Jin's mom is: she just wants Jin to study hard (instead of play)—which is why they move to the suburbs. The sad part of course is that it's that much harder for Jin to feel at home with his Chineseness in white suburbia.


The Monkey King meets Tze-Yo-Tzuh and gets called little monkey—that can't be good for the Monkey King's ego. Talk about patronizing, right? We think there's a pretty good chance that Tze-Yo-Tzuh does it on purpose just to irk Monkey, who—predictably—gets irked. But what's funny is that Monkey doesn't say he's not little; instead he says he's not a monkey. Then Tze-Yo-Tzuh just layers it on and calls him silly little monkey, which of course makes Monkey even madder.


Maybe Monkey deserves to be called a silly little monkey because he's clearly not very mature. What does he do when he reaches the five golden pillars on his flight away from Tze-Yo-Tzuh? First he graffitis a pillar, and then he pees on the pillar. (By the way, if you're wondering what he writes, he basically tags the pillar with his new name "Great Sage.") It's hard to get more juvenile than that.


Jin can't stop obsessing over the possibility that Amelia might like blond, curly-haired Greg, so what does he do? He changes his hairstyle and goes to school the next day with curly hair just like Greg's (only not blond). The effect? Totally ridiculous of course. But it's also pretty normal for a teenager. How do you think trends start anyway?


We feel for Danny. Really. High school's hard enough, and then you throw in a cousin like Chin-Kee? Who wouldn't feel embarrassed and humiliated by Chin-Kee's loud personality and appearance? But that's the point of Chin-Kee—he's Danny's big obstacle because he represents Danny's fears of his own Chineseness. More than that, Chin-Kee represents Danny's fear of what other people might think when they see someone who's Chinese.


Danny asks Melanie out on a date, but Melanie rejects him. Danny's convinced it's because of Chin-Kee, so he tells Melanie: "I'm nothing like him! I don't even know how we're related!" But of course he does know—he just won't admit it because he doesn't want to admit that he's actually Chinese too.


The Monkey King comes of age only when he meets Wong Lao-Tsai because Wong Lao-Tsai shows the Monkey King who he could be: a simple, humble monkey, just like Wong Lao-Tsai is a simple, humble monk. Plus Wong Lao-Tsai is willing to die on the spear while waiting for Monkey to come around. Self-sacrifice: now that's maturity for you.


When Wei-Chen tells Monkey that he thinks humans are "petty, soulless creatures" and that "the thought of serving them sickens [him]," that's actually a pretty mature realization. In another book, that might actually be the coming of age moment because it's a realization of how awful the world can be. But not in this book. What is the coming of age moment for Wei-Chen? Read on…


When Monkey says to Jin that "'[he] would have saved [him]self from five hundred years' imprisonment beneath a mountain of rock had [he] only realized how good it is to be a monkey,'" he's uttering the big idea of this book. It's also this idea that sends Jin into his big coming of age moment—the moment when he meets Wei-Chen at the Chinese restaurant. It just so happens that Jin's coming of age moment happens at about the same time as Wei-Chen's. They both learn to return to their original, humble selves together, which is perfect if you ask us. Because really—the book is all about Wei-Chen and Jin's friendship with each other.

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