American Born Chinese | Study Guide

Gene Luen Yang

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Study Guide
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American Born Chinese | Symbols


Transformer Toy

Back in his family's Chinatown apartment, Jin Wang and his friends loved to play with Transformers and watch them on television. Developed by toy company Hasbro, Transformers are plastic toy robots that can be reconfigured into another form, such as a car, truck, or airplane. Incredibly popular in the 1980s, the toys even had their own line of comics, an animated TV series, and an animated movie. Readers of American Born Chinese see Jin clutching a red Transformer on the way to his family's new home. When Jin first talks to Wei-Chen, Wei-Chen is holding a Transformer that turns into a monkey. Wei-Chen's toy represents his own transformation from monkey to mortal—his father, the Monkey King, gave it to him as a reminder of who he really is. Jin's love of Transformers has a different meaning. It symbolizes his desire to change himself from an insecure Asian American outcast to a popular, purely American kid.

Monkey King's Shoes

Unlike his primate subjects, the Monkey King wears human clothes—a leotard topped by a tiger-striped loincloth and a red bandana. Shoes are the one article of human clothing he doesn't wear. His lack of footwear is a problem for the celestial gatekeeper who refuses the Monkey King entrance to the banquet. No matter his powers or strength, the Monkey King is still just a monkey if he's not wearing shoes. Upon returning home, the Monkey King insists that all the monkeys—not just him—wear shoes at all times. This symbolizes the Monkey King's desire to leave his monkey-hood behind and become an equal to the gods, goddesses, deities, and demons of heaven and the underworld. Taking off his shoes before embarking on his journey West is a signal that the Monkey King has accepted himself for what he truly is: a monkey.

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