Given that all religions have some validity, provided that the believer is sincere and devoted in his belief, what characters show sincerity and devotion, and why do they do it?
1. Given that all religions have some validity, provided that the believer is sincere and devoted in his
belief, what characters show sincerity and devotion, and why do they do it? When do they show
piety in any of its forms, including filial piety? When do characters show a lack of piety or sincerity
2. If one can grasp the meaning of life only through great struggles, endurance, much suffering, and
the life-long pursuit of learning, in what ways does Monkey show endurance through struggle and
suffering? Is he forever learning, and if so, what is he learning?
3. Human nature can be seen not only seriously but also comically. What episodes show the comic
aspects of humans or other beings or creatures? When is Monkey a comic character? When does
Monkey show human frailties and failings? Is anyone else a comic character? If so, when and how?
4. Given that poetic justice means that characters get what they deserve in the end, what are some of
the examples where characters face consequences for crimes and broken promises etc? Does the
universe of Monkey seem to function in a way that is fair, ultimately?
5. Bureaucracy and government officials are parodied or satirized in Heaven and in the land of the
dead (the World of Darkness) in Monkey, often for comic effect. Find examples of characters
encountering bureaucrats in otherworldly places, and discuss the points being made. For example,
do you think the author is sometimes making points about government officials?
6. Monkey as a king of the monkeys has some things in common with Gilgamesh as a king, e.g. a
desire for immortality. When they are good kings, what virtues do they show? Is one of them better
than the other? When they are not good kings, what failings do they share? Who has the greatest
flaws as a king?
7. Given that situational irony means that things are not as they should be, in what episodes do you
see examples of situational irony? Given that cosmic irony means that the universe is rigged in a way
that goes against what sentient beings would wish for, are there examples of cosmic irony in the
novel so far?
Further study questions for Monkey.
7. Redemption and “salvation” are important themes in Monkey. Piety is shown in many ways in this
story, and pious acts seem to add up to the benefit of the character. What are some of the examples
of pious action resulting in redemption or “salvation”?
8. Compare the character development of Monkey to that of some of the others in the novel, e.g.
Pigsy and Tripitaka. In what ways are they becoming more enlightened, and in what ways are they
clearly not becoming more enlightened? Try to find examples of actions that reveal their characters’
flaws as well as virtues as they change. Where do you see Monkey acting or feeling self-important
9. Compare the character developments of Monkey, Pigsy and Tripitaka to the character
developments of the heroes in Gilgamesh. Though the novel is primarily comic and the epic is more
serious and even tragic (possibly), how do the characters’ traits, flaws, and/or virtues compare?
Which characters do you care about more, and what episodes or scenes make you care?
10. Kuan-yin, a.k.a. Guanyin or Guanshiyin, is a Bodhisattva and not a deity although she (originally
he) is treated as a deity in Chinese popular practice, and is one of the most popular “gods” in East
Asia. How is she depicted in Journey to the West, and how does she compare to other gods and
11. If Tripitaka is our only pure and good character, how effective is he? What does each character
on the quest bring to the group? In what ways do they play off against each other, and how do their
interactions contribute the story? Why is it that Tripitaka and Monkey attain Buddhahood but Pigsy
12. How are Taoists depicted in the novel? In what ways are they shown to be engaged in
questionable or bad activities? How do the Buddhists and Taoists stand in comparison with each
other? How do you reconcile these episodes and scenes with the idea that all religions should be
Final Monkey questions
13. Go back to our definition of the novel and consider what makes this story exemplify the novel
genre. Why is Monkey a good novel hero? Why would he not make a good epic hero? How about
Tripitaka? Is he a good novel hero, or would he be a better epic hero?
14. Look in the novel for acts of generosity (in any of its forms), discipline and patience. Then look
for examples of their opposites, i.e. the nonvirtues of greed (selfishness), a lack of discipline, and
anger. How are acts that shows the virtues rewarded, and how are their opposites rewarded?
15. Look in the novel for evidence of exertion, meditation, and wisdom (in any of its forms). Then
look for examples of their opposites, i.e. the nonvirtues of laziness (sloth), mindlessness (lack of
awareness), and foolishness. How are acts that shows the virtues rewarded, and how are their
16. The last paragraph of the novel is a dedication to the Buddha. In what ways does this novel
“mitigate the sufferings of the lost and damned”? Do you think it turns the hearts of its readers
toward a greater kind of truth? If so, what of value do you take away from Monkey?
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