Characters in “Journey to the West” by Wu Cheng’en
One of the main characters of the Journey to the West is the Monkey King, Sun Wukong. The book has become a famous novel in many countries and one of the most popular in China. The story plot tells about the Journey of Xuanzang, the monk, to India in order to obtain the sacred Buddhist scriptures. The monk’s companions in this adventure to the West are the cannibal Sha-sen, Monkey Sun Wukong, and Zhu Wuneng (Wu 9). As the plot unfolds in the novel, the main character is Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. This is a book about travel, adventures, courage, and readiness to go for deeds. While the pilgrims, going in a western direction from China, overcome various challenges and different troubles and face misfortunes, which test their spiritual strength.
Sun Wukong was born from a mystical stone, which gave strength due to the centuries-old influence of strong forces on him. Further, during the story, the Monkey realizes the frailty of life, and he has a desire to achieve immortality. Having overcome long distances in search of truth, on another continent, the King of the Monkeys finds a Taoist teacher, who names him Sun Wukong (Wu 66). Sun Wukong mastered the art of transformations, could fly, become invisible, and much more. Later, he numerously showed his bravery in battles with enemies.
The novel has strong connections to the religions of the Ming dynasty of China. Pilgrims, during the book, go to the West to acquire Buddhist sutras (Wu 13). In the end, the heroes find themselves in the Western Paradise, which is ruled by the Buddha. The Jade Emperor, unable to cope with Sun Wukong on his own, turns to the Buddha, who imprisons the rebellious Monkey under the mountain, where he is forced to languish, serving a sentence for five centuries (Wu 229). Further, after this period came to an end, it was globally announced he would have to bring China the Buddhist sutras, as he had been chosen.
Shi Hou, the meaning of a stone monkey, was the first name referring to being born in a specific condition for the Monkey King. Mei Houwang, the meaning of a Handsome Monkey-King, is the next name that he chose himself. The name Sun Wukong was given to the Monkey by his first master the, meaning “awakened to emptiness” (Wu 66). The name of the protagonist changes with the flow of circumstances around him, his personal approach, and his life.
From the first chapter, it turns out that the Monkey and the monk will also be accompanied by a creature associated with a pig. Former heavenly commander Zhu Wuneng was thrown to earth from heaven for trying to seduce the moon goddess, who reported his incorrect behavior to the Jade Emperor. Reborn on earth, the commander became a creature that can most accurately be called a pig-man. Zhu Wuneng embodies the modern meaning of the word “pig” – he is lazy and gluttonous (Wu 66). Therefore, he constantly envies the Monkey King and regularly tries to arrange unfavorable situations for him.
Journey to the West is a cautionary tale that explores many different characters. Each of them is individual and has both positive and negative characteristics. At the same time, the author shows that there are different choices, in which someone follows their dark urges like Zhu Wuneng, and someone chooses the light side. The story mixes philosophy and religion, which makes the novel interesting for different readers.
Wu, Cheng’en. Monkey king: Journey to the west. Translated by Julia Lovell. New York: Penguin Books, 2021.