Girl in Translation

Ma Character Analysis

Ma, Kim’s mother, is a former music teacher and musician, who now works at a garment factory in New York. As a young woman, Ma married Pa for love, though she became a widow at a young age when Pa died of a heart attack. Being a widow means that Ma must rely on her older sister, Aunt Paula, to bring her and Kim to the United States and to finance her tuberculosis treatment. Ma adheres to the Chinese belief in the importance of repaying one's debts, and thus believes that she and Kim have no right to challenge Aunt Paula's poor treatment of them. Ma never learns much English, which means that Kim is in charge of getting them around in their English-speaking world. Ma wholeheartedly believes that Kim's education is the only way that they'll escape their poverty. She cautions Kim to not become too close with the other factory children, including Matt, as that will keep Kim from living up to her educational potential. Ma brings her violin with her to the U.S. but seldom plays it, as she's often too tired or cold. However, when she does play, she explains to Kim that she plays for herself so she remembers who she is and what she loves. Like Kim, Ma is very ashamed of her poverty. She's distraught when Kim gets her application fees for Yale waived, as she believes they should pay for at least some of it. Ma is surprisingly understanding when Kim admits she's pregnant, as she blames herself for leaving Kim to her own devices. She ends up doing most of the work of raising Jason and in the epilogue, Kim notes that she no longer tells Ma about her romances as Ma insists she marry each suitor, suggesting that Ma is still very culturally Chinese.

Ma Quotes in Girl in Translation

The Girl in Translation quotes below are all either spoken by Ma or refer to Ma. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Riverhead edition of Girl in Translation published in 2010.
One Quotes

Nelson rolled his eyes. "Welcome to America," he said loudly for the adults' benefit. He leaned in to pretend to kiss my cheek and said softly, "You're a rake filled with dirt." A stupid country bumpkin. This time, his tones were perfect.

[…] I felt a flush crawl up my neck, then I smiled and pretended to kiss him back. "At least I'm not a potato with incense sticks for legs," I whispered.

The adults beamed.

Related Characters: Kim (speaker), Nelson (speaker), Ma, Aunt Paula, Uncle Bob
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Girl in Translation quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

"Never forget, we owe Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob a great debt. Because they got us out of Hong Kong and brought us here to America, the Golden Mountain."

Related Characters: Ma (speaker), Kim , Aunt Paula, Uncle Bob
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Two Quotes

Aunt Paula walked us to our workstation, passing an enormous table I hadn't seen earlier. A combination of very old ladies and young children were crowded around it, clipping all the extraneous threads off the sewn garments. This seemed to be the easiest job.

"They enter at this table as children and they leave from it as grandmas," Aunt Paula said with a wink. "The circle of factory life."

Related Characters: Aunt Paula (speaker), Kim , Ma, Mrs. Wu
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

As Ma had explained earlier, all employees were secretly paid by the piece; this meant that the work the children did was essential to the family income. When I was in high school, I learned that piece payment was illegal, but those rules were for white people, not for us.

Related Characters: Kim (speaker), Ma, Matt, Aunt Paula
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Three Quotes

"Don't get too close to the other children here. Ah-Kim, you must always remember this: if you play with them, learn to talk like them, study like them, act like them—what will make you different? Nothing. And in ten or twenty years, you'll be doing precisely what the older girls are doing, working on the sewing machines in this factory until you're worn, and when you're too old for that, you'll cut thread like Mrs. Wu."

Related Characters: Ma (speaker), Kim , Mrs. Wu
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Four Quotes

"Ah-Kim, if you go too many times to her house, we will have to invite her back to ours one day and then what? Little heart's stem, we already have too many debts we can't repay."

Related Characters: Ma (speaker), Kim , Annette
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Five Quotes

I stopped walking for a moment and thought about turning back, going back to who I was. If they knew that Ma made even my underwear for me, that we slept under pieces of fabric we'd found in the trash, they would surely throw me out. I was a fraud, pretending to be one of the rich kids. What I didn't know then was that I shouldn't have worried about pulling any of this off; they weren't fooled at all.

Related Characters: Kim (speaker), Ma, Dr. Weston
Related Symbols: Underwear
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Six Quotes

I said to her once, "Ma, you don't have to play for me every week. You have so many other things to do."

"I play for myself too," she'd answered. "Without my violin, I'd forget who I was."

Related Characters: Kim (speaker), Ma (speaker)
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Eight Quotes

Our living conditions didn't change but with time, I stopped allowing myself to be conscious of my own unhappiness.

Related Characters: Kim (speaker), Ma
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

I held my breath when we finally got a good view of the Liberty Goddess. She was so close and so magnificent. Ma and Matt were right next to me. Ma squeezed my hand.

"How long we've dreamed of this," she said.

"We're here," I said. "We're really in America."

Related Characters: Kim (speaker), Ma (speaker), Matt
Related Symbols: The Liberty Goddess
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Nine Quotes

"Annette. Stop it […] This is not some abstract idea in your head. This is my life. If you do something to protest, we could lose our job."

Related Characters: Kim (speaker), Ma, Annette
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Ma had told me that Pa had been a brilliant student, with a talent for both languages and science, and that I'd gotten my intelligence from him. I used to take comfort from that, but now I just wished he were here to help me.

All I wanted was to have a break from the exhausting cycle of my life, to flee from the constant anxiety that haunted me: fear of my teachers, fear at every assignment, fear of Aunt Paula, fear that we'd never escape.

Related Characters: Kim (speaker), Ma, Aunt Paula, Pa
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Thirteen Quotes

"I promised I would make a better life for you, Ma. I'm sorry I was so stupid."

Ma's voice broke. "My little girl, you've had to do everything for us. I am the one who is sorry, sorry I couldn't do more to help you."

Related Characters: Kim (speaker), Ma (speaker), Matt
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Epilogue Quotes

I kept him from his father all these years. When I gave Matt up, I forced Jason to do the same. For my attempt at nobility, our son paid the price.

Related Characters: Kim (speaker), Ma, Matt, Jason
Page Number: 302
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire Girl in Translation LitChart as a printable PDF.
Girl in translation.pdf.medium

Ma Character Timeline in Girl in Translation

The timeline below shows where the character Ma appears in Girl in Translation. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
One
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...a run-down, dirty neighborhood. Everyone gets out of the car. Uncle Bob unloads Kim and Ma's suitcases and Ma's violin case and stacks them in front of a boarded-up storefront. Aunt... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Ma unlocks the front door to reveal a dark and cavernous hallway. She instructs Kim to... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...move on a weekday so that she had an excuse to leave while Kim and Ma were still thanking her for her help. Ma reassures Kim, but Kim believes that Ma... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Stepping back, Kim explains that she and Ma spent their first week in the U.S. in Aunt Paula's house on Staten Island. Kim... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
The next day, Ma and Kim woke alone in the house. Kim suggested they try the special white tea,... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Aunt Paula returned around lunchtime, sat with Ma and Kim at the table, and complimented Kim's intelligence. Ma politely played down Kim's intelligence... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Back in the present, Ma and Kim spend days cleaning their apartment. On the second day they go to the... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...to exterminate or get used to. Kim misses their neat apartment in Hong Kong, especially Ma's piano. In the Brooklyn apartment, Ma kills roaches while Kim protects Ma from the rats... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
The night before Kim starts school, Ma says that she needs Kim to come to the factory with her after school every... (full context)
Two
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
...neighborhood as her official one, as it'll allow her to go to the nicer school. Ma and Kim struggle to find the school and finally get there late. A black security... (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Kim holds back tears as she meets Ma outside of the school. She doesn't tell Ma the truth and settles for saying that... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Ma leads Kim to a freight elevator and then onto the factory floor. The air is... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Aunt Paula leads Ma and Kim through the factory. They pass a large table with old ladies and young... (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
...tells her she can't tell anyone about it, as he swiped it from "Dog Flea Mama's" station. When Kim looks confused, the boy mimics Aunt Paula's habit of scratching her neck.... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
When Kim takes a break, she finds Matt at the thread cutters' table. He's sitting with his mother, Mrs. Wu. Mrs. Wu notices... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
The next morning, Kim feigns illness and insists she needs to stay home from school. Ma knows that Kim is lying. Through tears, Kim tells Ma about how mean Mr. Bogart... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Kim decides to go through Ma's things. She finds an old record of an Italian opera with a photo inside, and... (full context)
Three
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Ma and Kim scrub the radiator in their apartment but no matter what they do, it... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...which tells Kim that they have heat. Kim longs for the better times she and Ma had in Hong Kong. (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
When Kim gets to the factory the next afternoon, she sees Matt dragging a cart piled high with skirts. She helps him push the cart to the... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Kim finds Ma and admits outright that there was no school, but she spent the day at home... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
...vows to go back to school on Monday, as she can't bear the thought of Ma cutting threads as an old lady. She thinks of Aunt Paula saying that Nelson will... (full context)
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Ma and Kim begin leaving their oven on and open all the time. Kim is used... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...aside from Annette, and she doesn't fit in at all. Her clothing is homemade, and Ma keeps her hair chopped short, insisting that it takes less time to dry in the... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
That winter, Kim is sick most of the time. Ma cooks traditional Chinese remedies for her but continues to send Kim to school, as she's... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Kim tells Ma that in the U.S., students don't get to keep their homework or tests, so she... (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Mr. Bogart's favorite student is Tyrone Marshall, a poor black student. His grades are exceptional and Kim nurses a secret crush on... (full context)
Four
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...assigns a diorama depicting conflict resolution skills. Annette and Kim decide to work together, and Ma allows Kim to go to Annette's house one afternoon to work on it. Kim greets... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...feels lonely as she walks home. She dreams about the Averys’ warm house often, though Ma forbids Kim from going over again. Ma insists that they wouldn't be able to invite... (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Though Ma has a green card and is legally allowed to work, she still gets paid in... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
As Christmas approaches, Kim agonizes over what to get Annette for a gift. Ma isn't sure what they should buy for a white girl, but they eventually decide on... (full context)
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
On the last day before vacation, Ma walks Kim to school instead of heading straight for the factory. Much to Kim's horror,... (full context)
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
At the factory several days later, Kim approaches Matt, tells him "joyful Christmas," and offers him the panda keychain. She tells him that it's... (full context)
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...to visit her now that she's in the U.S. Carefully, Kim lays out one of Ma's socks and wakes up on Christmas to find $2 in the sock. She realizes that... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Not long after the Western new year, Ma and Kim pass a dumpster overflowing with faux fur from a toy factory. They decide... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...all the gods leave at midnight the night before, and return on the new year. Ma and Kim carefully prepare by performing ceremonies to honor the dead and making offerings to... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The next Sunday, Ma and Kim notice lights on at Mr. Al's shop, an unusual occurrence. They decide not... (full context)
Five
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
When Ma and Kim get to their apartment, Kim translates what Mr. Al said about the block... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Ma sternly tells Kim that they have to repay their debts to Aunt Paula, even if... (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...report card in February, she's not doing well, but she's passing most subjects. She forges Ma's signature and tells Ma that they only get report cards once per year. She also... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
In March, Kim and Ma say goodbye to Mr. Al. He gives them folding chairs and a... (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...what she wants to do next year, though Kim continues to wonder how she'll tell Ma that she's been kicked out of school. Finally, Mrs. LaGuardia calls Kim "honey" and tells... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
In the spring, Mrs. LaGuardia makes Ma and Kim an appointment at Harrison Prep. Ma is thrilled until she realizes the appointment... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Kim finds her building and the secretary asks if Ma is parking the car. When the secretary realizes that Kim came alone, she instructs Kim... (full context)
Six
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...too expensive, so she tries to leave. Dr. Weston asks if she can speak to Ma at some point, and Kim, burning with shame, says they don't have a phone and... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...end of the school year approaches, students buy autograph books to have their friends sign. Ma even agrees to buy Kim one. Kim writes the same thing in everyone's books but... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Aunt Paula excuses Ma from work on the morning of Kim's graduation ceremony. Kim wishes she could make Ma... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
...her, excited they'll both be going to Harrison. Mr. and Mrs. Avery introduce themselves to Ma and invite them out to lunch with them, but Ma refuses. She and Kim board... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Aunt Paula is furious that Kim and Ma applied behind her back, but she composes herself quickly. Ma insists that they're grateful for... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Ma buys Kim a boxy polyester blazer, a white shirt, and a dark blue skirt with... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...last class of the day is gym, which she realizes is considered a serious subject. Ma had taught Kim to not do anything unladylike or dangerous, which includes most movement required... (full context)
Seven
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
...begun growing breasts, but doesn't yet have a bra. Her underwear was poorly handmade by Ma. She notices toilet stalls and changes in one. Kim is almost happy to have been... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...she may be able to shift her hours at all so that she can help Ma after school, and Mr. Jamali promises to help. (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
When Kim arrives at the factory, Matt comments on Kim's new clothes and says she looks pretty. Though she relishes the compliment... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...impossible to keep up. The only subjects Kim does well in are Life Science and Math. She has to spend hours poring over her textbooks for her other subjects and often... (full context)
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Ma and Kim buy a package of underwear at Woolworth's, but they have to go to... (full context)
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...children are required to talk to each other, refuses to do so. Instead, she asks Matt for help. She tells Matt about her fight with Luke and he suggests that maybe... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Kim does her best to avoid Aunt Paula at the factory. One afternoon, Paula invites Ma and Kim to her house for dinner and suggests that Kim wear her school outfit.... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
...and Nelson baits her into admitting she only got 67% on her last English test. Ma is dismayed to learn this, but Kim meets Paula's eyes and says she doesn't have... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...they all seem relaxed and happy together. She keeps her distance, as she knows that Ma wouldn't allow her to go out with them, even if she didn't have to be... (full context)
Eight
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...slides a card into Kim's locker apologizing, but avoids Kim after that. Kim doesn't tell Ma or Annette about what happened, especially since she's still embarrassed that she thought Tammy would... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
At about this time, Ma and Kim finally get a phone. Kim tells Ma she needs it for homework, though... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Ma struggles through the cold winter but fortunately, her tuberculosis doesn't return. Kim stops allowing herself... (full context)
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...convinces Kim to come with her to a movie. Kim makes up an excuse for Ma, and the girls go to see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Annette pays... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
...to camp upstate and Kim returns full-time to the factory. She explains that she and Ma are responsible for bagging garments, which takes Ma thirty seconds per skirt to do. Kim... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Matt pretends to be offended and as they banter, he learns that Kim has never actually... (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Later, Aunt Paula approaches Ma and Kim and tells them that the rate for skirts is going to drop to... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Matt butts into the conversation, and Aunt Paula suggests that he take over for Mr. Pak.... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Matt gives Kim his gold necklace and asks her to give it to Mrs. Wu. Kim... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
On Sunday, Ma and Kim meet Matt in Times Square. Kim is struck by how fancy everything and... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Finally, Matt ushers Ma and Kim onto the Staten Island Ferry to see the Liberty Goddess. When... (full context)
Nine
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...buttons, passing around petitions, and even calls herself a Communist. Kim struggles with this, as Ma's family was killed because of Communism. As Annette changes, she becomes more attuned to the... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...Kim dances around it, but finally asks if Annette remembers her saying that she and Ma work in a factory. Annette's eyes widen, but Kim shushes her—she tells Annette that if... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
A week before the exam, Annette insists on taking Kim to Macy's to relax. Kim is skeptical that this is even possible, but she lies to Ma... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...actually be paid for time working at the library. She opens a bank account in Ma's name and begins stashing all her paychecks there. Kim spends all her free time studying... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
...him the article and when she's finished, Park slowly smiles at Kim. An hour later, Matt approaches Kim and offers to pay her for the magazine. She asks why he pretends... (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
The night before Kim's exam, a shipment is due at the factory. She and Ma get home after 2am and then Kim stays up the rest of the night studying.... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Later, at the factory, Matt invites Kim to go with him to deliver something to his father. Kim is surprised,... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Finally, they stop in an alleyway near an abandoned building. Matt raps on a doorway and after a minute, a man lets them in. They walk... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Matt walks to one man who Kim assumes is Matt's father. The man seems annoyed to... (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
As Matt's father returns to the table, he notices Kim and asks her what cards she would... (full context)
Ten
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Ma finally allows Kim to grow out her hair, and since her body settles in a... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
At the factory, Kim is tuned into Matt's every move. One afternoon, she mistakenly comments that his pants look different. He admits he's... (full context)
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
One afternoon, a girl named Vivian is waiting for Matt outside the factory. She's gorgeous, kind, and perfect in every way. Kim learns that Vivian's... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...Kim's popularity rises, boys begin to take interest in her. She feels liberated now that Matt is no longer available. She spends most of her weekend evenings on the phone with... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob invite Kim and Ma to accompany them to see Nelson's debate competition. Apparently, he's very good. In Bob and... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
That winter, Ma and Kim's stove finally breaks. After a few nights huddled together under blankets, Ma calls... (full context)
Eleven
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...can't promise anything. Fortunately, he is able to fix the stove. He very politely refuses Ma's attempt to tip him and tells her to buy something nice. (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Matt drops out of high school to work full-time, while Kim begins taking freshman classes at... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...for Park to run. She runs with him but when she looks back, she sees Matt grab the boy and yank him around. The boys try to insist that they were... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...to come see one of Annette's plays, and they devise a plan: Kim will tell Ma she's sleeping over at Annette's house. Ma is skeptical when Kim brings it up, but... (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...and ushering children into secret places. Kim ends up in a dark men's bathroom with Matt and three little kids. They huddle together, trying to avoid the open toilet. Kim comforts... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...pounds, both with the fear of being found out and because of her proximity to Matt. Finally, the door opens. The little kids tumble out. Kim moves to leave as well,... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...flirts openly with other boys at the factory. She reminds herself that despite the kiss, Matt has still chosen Vivian, not her. All of this is made worse by the fact... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
...envelope containing her test scores. Kim insists she wants to wait to open them until Ma returns from the bathroom. Later, when Kim does open them, she can only find the... (full context)
Twelve
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...out. Kim enjoys spending time with Curt, as he makes it easier to bear seeing Matt with Vivian. One fall day, Curt asks Kim why she doesn't love him. She insists... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...can. When Kim asks for the fee waiver, Dr. Copeland asks to see Kim and Ma's tax return to see if Kim qualifies. When she looks at the return, she gives... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
The next day, Ma brings home a stack of cheap china plates and tells Kim to break them, which... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Aunt Paula still receives Kim's score reports in the mail. Though Kim and Ma try to keep Kim's results a secret, Paula seems aware that they're very good. Because... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...down on a piece of paper, and it's not that much more than Kim and Ma had been paying Aunt Paula for their debts. (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...need a deposit, paperwork, proof of employment, and salary slips. Kim thinks that she and Ma will be able to manage the deposit with a bit more time, though she has... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
In March, Kim and Curt are leaving a school building together one afternoon when Kim notices Matt... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
When Kim and Matt arrive, they're too emotional to think clearly. Kim offers Matt a towel and he begins... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
A while later, Matt talks about having to care for Park and admits that he's never even told Vivian... (full context)
Thirteen
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Ma and Kim aren't surprised when Aunt Paula calls them to her office; they know that... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Aunt Paula says that Ma and Kim are ungrateful, points out that she sacrificed to get them all to America,... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Aunt Paula suggests that Ma and Kim leave the factory and the apartment if they feel taken advantage of, and... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Later, the doorbell rings and Kim leads Matt up into the apartment. He and Ma chat over tea and after a bit, he... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Haltingly, Matt says that when he was out with Vivian, he'd sometimes see Kim's face in front... (full context)
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Matt says he's not sure he wants to be rescued, and says he likes Chinatown. He... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
...weeks are extremely happy for Kim. Mrs. Avery is able to arrange for Kim and Ma to move to their new apartment in a matter of weeks, and Ma gets a... (full context)
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Kim and Matt spend time wandering around Chinatown, where she learns that Matt knows everyone. One afternoon, Kim... (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Once, when Kim and Matt are lying together at his apartment, he suggests that Kim skip Yale and stay in... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...redirects his lips to her cheek. Later, Kim tells Annette. Annette insists that Kim tell Matt, but Kim explains that if he knew, he'd want them to stay in Chinatown and... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Kim waits for Ma to get home and then runs to her, sobbing. Ma guides Kim to a chair... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Kim asks Ma if she ever worried about marrying Pa. Ma explains that when she did, she never... (full context)
Epilogue
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...time. Kim thinks that Mr. Ho looks familiar, and asks him if he knows a Matt Wu. Mr. Ho does, but he clearly doesn't recognize Kim from years ago. She asks... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Kim explains that in her mind, she runs into Matt everywhere. She wonders if that's why she chose to work at the hospital close to... (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...requires no mistakes, so that she doesn't have to listen to her heart, she hears Matt calling to her in English. Kim is immediately overcome with joy as she looks at... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Kim asks after Park and Vivian. Matt explains that he and Park are working at UPS, while Vivian started work in a... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
...as though she had no choice. She also insists she knew that she couldn't make Matt happy. Kim asks if he could live with a cardiac surgeon for a wife who... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Kim opens her mouth to say something, but Matt interrupts and says that Vivian is pregnant again. Kim starts to sob, and Matt holds... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Kim offers to give Matt a ride home on her Ducati motorcycle. The ride feels much like their first bike... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Kim and Matt say goodbye, and Kim watches him walk into his apartment. She begins to ride away,... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...rides home, it begins to rain. She thinks that the worst part is that seeing Matt again brought up an old dream of raising a family with him, which she thought... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Ma is wiping off her piano in the living room when Kim gets inside. Ma says... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Kim explains that both Ma and Annette had gone with her to her abortion appointment. They sat outside as a... (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
...of his early childhood. He cried whenever she left, and she often came home to Ma and Jason fast asleep in a chair, where they'd fallen asleep waiting for her to... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Kim thinks that she gave Matt his life with Vivian and his children, though she took away his life with her... (full context)