Monkey Hunting it involves many themes and issues that contribute to the main character, Chen Pan’s story of himself and his family. This novel covers issues within the subjects of immigration, assimilation, war, love and slavery and themes such as culture, education, wealth and self identity. Monkey Hunting explains the life and culture of one man who was raised in China in search of a new beginning in Cuba, but the story continues and links with the new generations that have come into his life and the connections of his family that persist over time.
Monkey Hunting begins with the story of Chen Pan who was born and raised in China and grows to become a gambler. His story begins with him being deceived into boarding a ship departing to Cuba which he believes will lead to fortunes and a better life. But on his arrival and to his astonishment he is sold to sugar plantations as a slave worker along with the many other African American and Chinese people who arrived just as he did. In the fields of this sugar plantation he learns that he is no better than the African American slaves that are forced into the Atlantic slave trade.
This is a major theme in the novel because in many countries around the world slavery was becoming a very important aspect in capital and labor in the nations which produce raw materials. Countries such as the United States and others in Latin America were involved in the slave trade to receive more assistance in labor to produce goods. In many nations this was the only source of capital and like other countries, Cuba was known for producing a raw material needed in many countries which was produced in the sugar plantations, which Chen Pan worked.
Although Chen Pan was considered an indentured servant alike from the other African American slaves in the sugar plantation, he never forgot his culture and the country in which he came from. Even though he continued to recite poetry from his ancestors in China and spoke the language to his fellow Chinese workers he also learned the cultures of the African American slaves and their language as well. But not long after he arrived in Cuba he decided to fight for his freedom and killed his owner and left the plantation to earch for a better life. After Chen Pan leaves the plantation he gains his freedom and becomes a successful shopkeeper in Havana, Cuba which later is a “Chinatown” in that nation. After gaining his freedom he later purchases a mulatto slave, which is a name of a person who has a mixed background such as black and white ancestors, named Lucrecia. Because Chen Pan has experienced his life as a slave he did not treat her different, but as an assistant to his shop called “The Lucky Find”.
Understanding how it felt to be labeled as a slave he took it as an insult when his peers in Chinatown knew that he purchased a mulatto slave for his shop. “One by one, they set down their loads to stare at him and Lucrecia walking by `To hell with all of you! ’, Chen Pan sputtered. ” [Page 69]. This quote in the novel shows that although the other shopkeepers in Chinatown did not approve of Chen Pan purchasing a slave, preferably a mulatto slave, he was not bothered by it because he knew how it felt to be a slave and he did not want her to be labeled that way as well.
Slavery became a very important aspect in this novel because of not only Chen Pan escaping slavery but because he purchased a slave for assistance of his shop. Although Lucrecia was not wealthy and was not part of his culture he treated her with respect, therefore when she bought her freedom she decided to stay living with him for the reason that he treated her nicely and appreciated her. Slaves during that time were treated as property and assets which can be sold and used for the wealthy owner’s convenience, but Chen Pan was different and because she believed him to be a better person they got married.
After Chen Pan marries Lucrecia, we see in the novel how Chen Pan is learning more about the culture and language of the Cubans and has completely adjusted to the new lifestyle in Havana. Although Chen Pan continued to speak in his language to his fellow Chinese friends in the city of Chinatown, he still continued to broaden his vocabulary with the Spanish people and become more interested in the news of the nation in which he lives in rather than the country of China which he came from. “Listening to his friends, Chen Pan questioned whether he was genuinely Chinese anymore” [Page 83].
With this quote it shows that Chen Pan continues to converse with his Chinese friends but is more interested in the culture and the new lifestyle in Cuba than what he used to have in China. This is another major theme in the novel because Chen Pan has grown to be accustomed to his new standard of living and has assimilated over the years. When someone immigrates to this country they bring their beliefs, religion and traditions with them. Once they come to another country they have a choice whether to assimilate into the new society or not.
In this novel it shows how Chen Pan came from China, became a slave, worked hard to become successful and became a wealthy business owner in Chinatown, but still associated with not only the Chinese people but people from other nations as well. Immigration and assimilation is a major part of this novel because it shows an example of how immigrants come to this country for all different reasons. Some come by force and not by choice and others come for more opportunities and a better life.
But for whatever reason they have for coming they all will have to face the society and the choice of whether to only associate with people from their culture or assimilate and adjust themselves to their new lifestyle in the new nation which they are in. In Chen Pan’s situation he came here to better his life and become successful and honor his families name in China. Although he never spoke to his ancestors and never went back to his country he brought his beliefs and culture with him to Cuba as many other people in many nations when they immigrate.
After Chen Pan and Lucrecria produce three children and have grandchildren soon after, we learn how other themes appear in the novel as well such as war, love and self identity. For Chen Pan’s granddaughter Chen Fang, who was born as a girl in China but was raised as a boy so that her father Lorenzo, would pay for an education, had self identity issues. Throughout the novel it shows that because Chen Fang was always around other boys and never girls her age, she adjusted to the male lifestyle which affected her life later on in her future.
This problem only occurred because she would not have received an education if her father knew that she was a girl rather than a boy which he never met. Although she produced a son later in her life after an arranged marriage , her life resulted in a troublesome manner and ended with her being in prison in China. In conclusion I believe many of the readers can relate to the aspects and themes that Chen Pan experienced throughout this novel, such as immigration and assimilation into another nation and in the case of his granddaughter finding your self-identity.
Although throughout this novel it showed the stories of three generations of Chen Pan’s family starting from the middle of the 19th century where there was slavery, to the beginning of the 20th century during wartime throughout the world, it showed many themes that make there story and their family unique. It shows how Cuba is diverse and how people from other nations can assimilate and be successful if they work hard and strive for a better life and opportunity for the new country they are in.