Monkey: A Folk Novel of China

Monkey: A Folk Novel of China Literary Elements


folk novel; comic fantasy adventure

Setting and Context

rural, often in a natural setting -- e.g, farms, forests, rivers

Narrator and Point of View

third-person omniscient

Tone and Mood

The author uses the vernacular tongue and simple, common language. There is little lyrical flourish in his sentences, and the tone is at times playful, whimsical, ironic--and very favorable towards religion (especially Buddhism), with the constant idea that good triumphs eventually, no matter how mischievous the others are. The mood or atmosphere created is one of hope.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Monkey and Tripitaka are the principal protagonists, facing off with numerous petty antagonists in the form of monsters along their pilgrimage to India.

Major Conflict

Kuan-yin sends Tripitaka to retrieve sacred Buddhist scriptures from India and bring them back to China. She converts and provides several helpful spirits to help Tripitaka along the way, namely his disciples Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy, and White Dragon Horse.


The climax comes rather late in the book as the four travelers finally arrive at Western Paradise only to be sent back to undergo one last calamity (for a total of 81).


The author develops a clear pattern to his storytelling. By the middle chapters of the book, it is clear that the disciples will encounter a monster, have a misunderstanding, and either defeat the monster or he will turn out to be a friend in disguise, attacking only because Monkey forgot to inform him of their identity, as usual. One clear instance of foreshadowing occurs early in the novel, when Monkey talks of journeying like a cloud to the Immortals--a skill that he will soon acquire in reality.


"At the crossing over the Hung River they were met by two ferrymen called Liu and Li whom, so it happened, Ch'en had injured in a previous incarnation."

The fact that Ch'en hurt the men who killed him in a past life is mentioned only once, while his murder is the focal point of the next phase of the story. Even his murder is recounted in a rather understated manner.


"In the Floating Sands, eight hundred wide,
in the Dead Waters, three thousand deep,
a goose-feather will not keep afloat,
a rush-flower sinks straight to the bottom" (page 159).

This inscription details what is to be found in the River of Flowing Sands. The last two lines point out that anyone and anything that enters the river dies. It alludes to the near omniscient presence of Yama, King of Death.


"A gentle wind fanned the green of the willows, a fine rain stabbed the red of the flowers" (page 86).

Ch'en has arrived at Chiang-chou to assume his duties as its new governor; he takes stock of the area's beauty, only to be murdered on the next page.


"Buddha's coat left one side bare,
but it hid the Absolute from the world's dust.
It's ten thousand threads and thousand stitches fulfilled the fruits of Meditation.
Is it a wonder that when I saw you come
I did not rise to greet you?
You who call yourself a man, yet have failed to avenge a father's death!" (Page 176.)

Tripitaka says this to a young prince, who does not realize that his father has been killed and his place usurped by an imposter. Tripitaka's words appear to be a paradox to the young prince, who cannot fathom how he should avenge his father's death when he still believes him to be alive and well.


One example of parallelism in this text is found when the queen speaks to her estranged son about the change she has witnessed in her husband and his father in the last few years.

She says, "What three years ago was warm and bland,
Theses last three years has been cold as ice..." (Page 182.)

It is this repetition of three years and the contrast of hot and cold that creates parallelism.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

Synecdoche: Monkey refers to Buddhas, Immortals, and Sages collectively as "the Immortals" on page 15 and continues this trend throughout the story.
Metonymy: The Patriarch refers to those studying under him as his pupils. In addition, the protagonists of our story (Tripitaka, Monkey, Sandy, Pigsy, and white dragon horse) are often referred to collectively as the disciples, the travelers, or the pilgrims.


This text is rife with personifications. We see Monkey taking on human qualities and religions as well as countless other creatures such as dragons (who live in palaces) take on personalities and human characteristics. Monkey's personification is even addressed within the text itself, when the question is raised whether a creature can achieve enlightenment like humans (the answer is yes, due to their physical makeup).