What does it truly mean to be accepted in society? Do you need to conform to certain social norms to be considered normal in today’s society? Must everyone try to be the stereotypical suburban kid? These questions are faced by those in their teenage years, where people are plagued by the opinions of others and their need to fit in amongst a judgemental crowd. These traits are strongly exemplified by the character Jin Wang, from the Novel American Born Chinese, who is a Chinese-born American.
He goes to a highschool that is composed of mainly suburban kids, many of who exemplify the typical high school stereotypes. The Novel American Born Chinese, by Gene Yang, follows three independent narratives that converge at the end, further showing the difficulties that modern society yields. One narrative displays the life of Jin Wang, the Chinese Born American student, hence the title. The next exhibits the story of the monkey king who is struggling with his identity of being a monkey, and considers himself above the rest and struggles when he is not considered a deity by being accepted into the dinner party of Heaven.
Lastly, the final narrative is about a character named Danny, who has a Chinese cousin who has stereotypes that are extremely stereotyped. The Novel American Born Chinese displays the struggle typical of a coming of age story, about jin who doesn’t fit in like the rest, by portraying three different narratives that converge at the conclusion to show a deep connection.
The main character Jin Wang goes through a series of events that can be classified as a coming of age story. According to Kent Baxter, “Coming-of-age stories have lent themselves to an intense examination of race, class, and gender because their protagonists are often forced to negotiate these pre-existing categories of identity as they transition into, resist, or are excluded from adulthood”(3). This statement classifies Jin Wangs struggle with fitting into an American High School as someone of Chinese heritage a coming of age story. Wang faces many challenges as he goes through school. He moved at a young age and even then is met with racist and ignorant remarks towards him. As he is introduced to the class upon moving, the teacher announces “Class I’d like us all to give a warm Mayflower Elementary welcome to your new friend and classmate Jing Jang!” (Yang 30), which is soon corrected by Jin, “Jin Wang”(30) he states out of embarrassment. Not even a moment later reveals how warm and welcoming the class really was when a student blurts out “My momma says Chinese people eat dogs”(31). These rude remarks are what Jin has to face daily as he begins his struggle with his identity through American school. Later that year, a new chinese student named Wei-Chen is introduced to the class in the same way that Jin was, they Wei-Chen soon tries to make friends with Jin but Jin was very cold to him, until he saw that they shared an interest in transformers, which Jin liked before he moved. The two of them remain friends yet Jin still struggles with his Chinese Heritage and the prejudices that he faces. He struggles with his identity all through Elementary School, Middle School, even through high school as he sees the girl he has a crush on, Amelia, talking to a white boy. He then tries to look like the boy, changing his hairstyle drastically to have the same American boy appearance that he gives off. Later, he asks his crush to go see a movie with him, which she responds that she would like to, eventually leading to conflict with the boy she was originally talking to. In the end he learns not to change his appearance and identity just to fit in to a crowd of peers.
The next narrative is that of the Monkey King who sought acceptance amongst the heavens as a deity, however was denied to the dinner party of deities. He pleads to be let in because he was the leader of the Monkey Kingdom. The monkey king states “You may announce that I am the Monkey King of Flower-Fruit Mountain!?” The guard then proclaims that he cannot be let in because he “Haven’t any shoes!”(Yang 14) Subsequently, the real reason for his denial to the dinner party of deities is revealed. “Look, you may be a king- you may even be a deity- but you are still a monkey.” This denial is very embarrassing to the Monkey King, who then leaves to go back to his kingdom. Upon his return, he mandates that all monkeys must, by law, wear shoes. He changes his, as well as his kingdom’s identity simply for acceptance, and because it is what the other deities did. He then isolates himself to meditate in solitude. After a period of forty days he masters the four major disciplines of invulnerability. Soon after he is relayed a message that states, “Monkey King, you are hereby convicted of trespassing upon heaven. Your sentence is death. Report immediately to the underwater Palace of Ao-Kuang, Dragon King of the Easrtern Sea, for your execution”(Yang 59). He then travels to where he meets Tze-Yo-Tzuh, the creator of all existence who then expels him to the end of the universe where he then displays his power to the arrogant monkey. He demonstrates to the monkey that by acting different than what he was, a regular monkey, he is hurting himself and his reputation. The Monkey King was sentenced to five hundred years trapped under a pile of rocks.
Finally the last story is that of Danny and Chin-Kee. Danny is a white, highschool age kid who has a strange Chinese cousin named Chin-Kee. Chin-Kee is Danny’s cousin that visits annually. Every year Danny dreads this time because of how odd Chin-Kee is. He has bright yellow skin, large buckteeth, and a long braid that hangs down almost to his knees. Chin-kee is an odd, exaggerated character who says things that are quite odd. “Rong time no see! Chine-Kee happy as ginger root pranted in nutritious manure of well-bred ox!” (Yang 49) Chin-Kee then goes to school with Danny. Danny is infuriated because of how odd Chin-Kee is, and how Chin-Kee is so smart. While Chin-Kee is at American school with Danny, he outshines him in math, literature and all of their other subjects causing growing resentment between the two. This continues on until the real identity of Chin-kee is revealed.
When the three stories come to an end, it is revealed that they all had interlocking plots, with some characters being disguised as others within the three.