Study Guide

American Born Chinese Transformation

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When an old, mysterious lady tells you that you can change into anything, "so long as you're willing to forfeit your soul," and it's only Chapter 2, you know things are going to go bad… soon. Especially for Jin.


So the Monkey King has mastered the "four major disciplines of bodily form." You would think that would make a difference in his character because he can basically be anything he wants to be. But nope—he's still the same old angry, bitter, and vengeful Monkey.


What would you do if you more or less met God, and God instructed you to just accept who you are and stop whatever nonsense you were doing? You'd stop, right? Well not if you're Monkey. He's especially stubborn, maybe because he's got so much kung-fu under his belt. That might just make a guy think he could take on God.


This book is supposed to be all about Jin and the Monkey King, but Wei-Chen definitely has a way of sneaking up on you. Take this scene for example: Wei-Chen is teasing Jin about his crush on Amelia, when Jin tells him to "'stop acting like such an F.O.B.!'" Instead of getting all offended by that term, Wei-Chen totally takes it in stride and says "'Hm. This is true.'" Then out of nowhere, in the next panel he's got a girlfriend: Suzy Nakamura. The guy can change things in a second. What's the point of Wei-Chen's transformation though? It shows that Wei-Chen knows how to adapt, whereas Jin can't find the courage to even talk to Amelia.


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). Of course, nothing really changes. Jin just ends up looking silly instead, especially to the people who know him best—Wei-Chen and Suzy.


Wong Lao-Tsai is the one character who doesn't change in the book. He does the same thing everyday—feed the homeless and tend to their wounds. He doesn't need to transform because he already knows who he is and what he wants: to serve the homeless faithfully for Tze-Yo-Tzuh. A transformation for him would just be excessive, and as such, out of character.


A lot of transformations in the book are kind of unnecessary—for example, the Monkey King's ability to get smaller (he hardly even uses that power). Which is why you've got to wonder: is it really all that necessary for Tze-Yo-Tzuh's emissaries to disguise themselves as vagrants in order to test Wong Lao-Tsai's virtue? Here's a thought for you: If Tze-Yo-Tzuh really does know what goes on in his subjects' hearts and knows "all their days" (he says this to Monkey), then why would he need to transform his emissaries into other beings in order to test Wong Lao-Tsai? Shouldn't he already know that Wong Lao-Tsai is a really solid guy? Kind of a head-scratcher in our opinion…


We can't talk about transformation without mentioning the earth-shattering change Monkey goes through after meeting Wong Lao-Tsai. Let's see: he calls Wong Lao-Tsai Master, and he also offers to fly Wong Lao-Tsai to the nearest town so that he can get medical attention for his wounds. But what's even more surprising is that he changes back to his normal size (he really is a little monkey like Tze-Yo-Tzuh says).


So: Jin is actually Danny. Clearly that's a big plot twist, but what about the old herbalist lady? Why does Jin dream about her before he becomes Danny? Here's an idea: If the Monkey King is a guide to Jin's conscience/conscious self, then maybe the old lady serves as a guide to Jin's unconscious desires. And while she may seem a little evil and scary, we think she might be necessary too since she leads Jin to figure out that things aren't actually all that different when he's Danny, particularly when it comes to his fears.


This scene is all about shock value: Chin-Kee's head bounces off of his body and out pops Monkey's head. It's pretty clear that we've got a major transformation on our hands, but what kind of transformation is it? Since Monkey is a Chinese mythological icon, he replaces the false stereotypes Chin-Kee represents. The Monkey King is a different kind of fantasy, one that's heroic and tough, and also grounded in actual Chinese culture (unlike Fu Manchu, who was a Hollywood creation). So when he appears, it's a sign that Jin's on the Chinese path to self-discovery.

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