Monkey by Cheng-en: The Arrogant and Selfish Noble
Some characters change throughout the stories and some never do. The title character Monkey in Cheng-en’s “Monkey” or “Journey to the West” changes, but he turns to a worse being than before. He is not the usual “good protagonist,” because his selfish attitude has turned him into more of an antagonist, especially as a “titled” heavenly being. At first, Monkey changes from a mortal to an immortal, but the story reveals that he has a superficial understanding of immortality, because as he gained greater powers and titles, he has become more arrogant and selfish in his thoughts and ways.
Initially, Monkey is different from other pleasure-loving animals of his kind, because he awakens to his own mortality. He tells other monkeys: “When the time comes for us to die, we won’t be able to go on living among the Blessed, and our lives will have been in vain” (Cheng-e 11). He leaves his comfortable existence to search for the Way that will enable him and his subordinates to remain “out of the clutches of the King of Hell forever” (11). It is interesting that on Earth, he meets a few people who want to find the way. He observes that people “were too concerned with fame and fortune to be interested in their fates” (13). This means that in comparison to them, the Monkey has somehow changed from within, by desiring for a nobler path to existence. Monkey receives seven years of training for the Way under Patriarch Subhuti and after that, Sun Wukong becomes an immortal and calls himself as the Great Sage.
Sun, however, wants to ensure his immortality, so he goes for greater titles, but even these were not enough. The Jade Emperor has made him “Protector of the Horses,” but Monkey does not appreciate that it is a low-grade Godhood category. When he realizes the low nature of his office, he lashes out: “How dare he trick me into coming here to feed his horses for him? Its a low job for youngsters, not for me” (52). The Jade emperor is offended when Monkey leaves his post and orders heavenly soldiers to catch the latter. Monkey, however, uses his mystical powers to defeat these soldiers. He also starts calling himself as “Great Sage Equaling Heaven” (55). The Jade Emperor bestows this title to him to end his misdeeds, though it is an empty one with no functions in heaven. Monkey is satisfied enough with the grandiose meanings of his title.
As the Great Sage Equaling Heaven, Monkey becomes vainer and more arrogant and spreads mischief in heaven. As the new administrator of Peach Orchard, he steals and eats its ripe peaches, which should have been prepared for a sacred party that the Queen Mother organized. He goes to the party and eats “the rare delicacies and exotic foods” (67). Finally, he steals and eats Lord Lao Zi’s immortality pills. Monkey knows that he has put himself into a “colossal disaster” (67), but instead of being responsible for his actions, he goes home to hide from his sins. These behaviors show that Monkey has matured in terms of powers and defending himself, but he remains spiritually and emotionally immature since he acts in selfish ways.
An immortal is often seen as a good being that focuses on “pure” values and actions. Monkey veers away from the traditional immortal and proves himself unfit as the Great Sage Equaling Heaven. He becomes vainer with his titles and acts more arrogantly toward others. He oversteps his boundaries and abuses the goodness of the spiritual beings around him. He lies to and steals from them and he escapes his fate in a dash. Clearly, Monkey is a character who has turned into a worse being, because he is a Sage who learns to use his powers entirely for self-gain. Monkey has transformed into an empty Sage with no real understanding of the Way.
Cheng-en, Wu. Monkey (Journey to The West). Web. 3 Sept. 2011 .