Girl in Translation

Girl in Translation Eight Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the hallway, Curt explains that he heard Sheryl give Tammy the idea to put the notes in her sleeve. He makes a joke about saving Kim so that he can continue cheating off her tests. When they re-enter the classroom, Kim notices that Tammy is crying, though she's not sure if it's from guilt or because she lost her cheat sheet. The next day, Tammy 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 pass her a friendly note. The next day, Mrs. Reynolds passes back the tests. Kim sees that Tammy failed. Kim received a 96, and Mrs. Reynolds explains that they're going to give Kim the benefit of the doubt.
When Kim keeps what happened a secret even from Annette, it illustrates just how ashamed she is of her outsider status. It's likely that if Kim were to tell Annette, it would help her and Annette become even closer; when Kim doesn't recognize or consider this possibility, it shows that she's still very much ruled by shame and trying to appear as adjusted as possible, even to her own detriment. In another way, this shows how Kim chooses to act independently to keep from being vulnerable with her friends or family.
Themes
Poverty and Shame 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 the truth is that she feels not having a phone broadcasts her poverty for her classmates to see. Kim begins filling out Ma's tax returns and does most of the shopping outside of Chinatown. At school, Kim keeps to herself. When winter arrives, she notices her classmates tanned from ski trips and marvels that their special ski jackets cost 20,000 skirts. Girls also begin applying makeup, which fascinates her. One day, Annette uses a cover-up stick in the bathroom. Kim is entranced, and Annette gives her the stick. With this, Kim realizes that Annette does understand her poverty on some level.
Though the phone allows Kim to connect more with her classmates, getting the phone also means that Kim's poverty is less obvious to an outside observer, as the lack of a phone is a sure sign of financial struggles. As she begins filing taxes for Ma and shopping for them, Kim continues to take a more adult role in the family that very nearly tips her into a head-of-household position. As Kim is forced to grow up, Ma is similarly forced to cede control.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Ma struggles through the cold winter but fortunately, her tuberculosis doesn't return. Kim stops allowing herself to be conscious of how horrible her living situation is. Ma brings up the subject of moving with Aunt Paula, but Paula's reaction scares Ma into not asking again. With the difficulties of surviving, Kim and Ma are also too tired to fight for anything better. Sundays, their one day off, are spent running all of their errands for the week and preparing for upcoming Chinese holidays. The best days are when they go to the temple in Chinatown, where the nuns serve free vegetarian food. Kim feels a sense of peace there she feels nowhere else.
Kim essentially chooses to ignore that she has fundamental human needs—she's attempting to be more independent than is healthy or even humanly possible. When Paula makes it clear that she has no intention of moving them, it suggests that she's aware that keeping Ma and Kim in poverty will make it far more difficult for Kim to do well at school, which will keep  both of them at the factory and under Paula’s control.
Themes
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
Related Quotes
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One afternoon, Annette 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 for their tickets. The girls are early, so they go to the bathroom and Annette puts makeup on them both. Kim feels very American, and a woman compliments the girls. Kim can't follow the film at all but enjoys it anyway. Afterwards, the girls scrub their faces before going home.
Kim feels American in makeup, suggesting that being American is something that Kim can play at by changing the way she looks. In this way, makeup acts somewhat like clothing and Kim's underwear do in that they're a way for her to try to look the part of an American girl, even if she still feels Chinese.
Themes
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
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For the summer, Annette goes 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 begins timing herself and by the end of the summer, develops a system that allows her to bag skirts in seven seconds. Kim tries her best to look industrious in front of Aunt Paula. One afternoon, Matt helps Kim and Ma in his free time. Ma tells Matt that he's growing up to be quite handsome. When Matt notices Kim sneaking a glance at him, he strikes a pose with one arm raised. Kim giggles that he looks like the Liberty Goddess.
While Kim is well aware that education is her best way out of the factory, dedicating herself to making as much money as possible is also extremely important if she wants to ever leave. Her desire to look good in front of Aunt Paula shows that Kim still believes there's a possibility that Paula can be convinced to care for them, if only they work hard enough.
Themes
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 seen the Liberty Goddess or Manhattan. He suggests they all go out on Sunday. Kim is delighted. She's disappointed when Matt invites Ma along, though she recognizes that it's the only way that Ma will allow it. Suddenly, a man starts screaming. Mr. Pak, one of the steamers, had gotten his hand trapped in the steamer. Several men help Mr. Pak release his hand, and Kim tries not to look. Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob arrive, and Paula yells at Mr. Pak to not be so clumsy. She shouts that nobody should call an ambulance; she's going to take Mr. Pak to the factory doctor, and everyone else should get back to work on the shipment. Matt quietly tells Kim that the factory doctor is just a friend of Paula's who won't report the accident.
Note how Paula handles Mr. Pak's injury, which is certainly very serious. Reprimanding him right off the bat shows that she absolutely doesn't care for his welfare, and her desire to not have anyone outside the factory find out that he got hurt means that she's certainly aware that the working conditions at the factory are unsafe and illegal—she just doesn't care. Again, the powerless status of Paula's workforce means that they're unable to push back at all on this ill treatment, as they're all replaceable fairly easily and cannot turn to legal recourse.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
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 one cent after this shipment. Kim is enraged; she realizes she's been working fast enough to earn more. She tells Paula that it's not fair. Paula reminds her that she and Ma are free to make other choices and says there's no slavery in America anymore. As Paula turns to leave, Ma grabs her and apologizes for Kim's impudence. Paula remarks that Kim is a bamboo shoot, meaning she's too Westernized.
Aunt Paula's comment that there's no slavery in America shows clearly that she's aware of the horrendous factory conditions she makes her employees work in. Essentially, she knows she's being abusive, but because there are few ways to stop her without hurting her employees even more, she has every intention of continuing to abuse her power.
Themes
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Matt butts into the conversation, and Aunt Paula suggests that he take over for Mr. Pak. Matt accepts nonchalantly, and both he and Paula leave. When they're gone, Ma hisses at Kim that they need Aunt Paula to employ them, as she's friends with the other factory owners and could blacklist them elsewhere if she wanted. The next day, Kim lurks around the steamers and watches Matt. At fourteen he's smaller than the men around him, but he tries hard to keep up. He suddenly emerges from a cloud of steam, startling Kim. She apologizes for getting him moved to steaming, though he makes jokes and insists it's not a big deal. Then, seriously, he says he needs the job; Mrs. Wu can barely work anymore.
Like Kim, Matt is also being forced to grow up and act maturely well before he's actually an adult. While for Kim this means doing well in school, Matt sees that working the system at the factory is the only way for him to get ahead and make a life for himself. This continues to develop Matt's character as someone who places a great deal of importance on work, something that will be important later.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
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 is puzzled until Matt pulls his shirt open—the heat from the steamers caused the necklace to burn his chest. Matt glosses over this, confirms that they're still going to Manhattan on Sunday, and goes back to work. As Kim approaches Mrs. Wu, she notices that the woman is scolding Park. Park, however, isn't facing her to read her lips, though he seems to be responding. Kim tries to hand over the necklace as Mrs. Wu looks disgusted. Ma comes up behind Kim, claims responsibility for Matt's move, and the women eye each other and say that they need to give their impulsive children time. Kim runs back to her station, wondering if that means that Matt really likes her.
The fact that Park seems to be actually listening to Mrs. Wu suggests that he's not deaf, as Matt and Mrs. Wu insist. This implies that he has some other issue that's possibly considered shameful—and that Mrs. Wu and Matt probably feel very isolated because of it. When the steamers burn Matt, it shows the reader that even when things at the factory are working properly, it's still a very dangerous place, and certainly no place for a teenager to be working as though he's an adult.
Themes
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
On Sunday, Ma and Kim meet Matt in Times Square. Kim is struck by how fancy everything and everyone looks, especially the women. Ma points to a piano store and Kim and Matt usher her in. As Ma begins leafing through music, Matt tells Kim that Matt's father is "gone." Kim takes this to mean that he's dead. When Ma is finished playing one of the pianos, they leave the shop and admire the skyscrapers. As they walk, Matt explains that Mr. Pak won't return to the factory; he'll go to work with his wife at a jewelry factory, though it pays worse.
At the piano store, Ma is able to remember her life before coming to the U.S. and the relative economic success she experienced there. Matt's insight into Mr. Pak's future makes it seem as though Aunt Paula's factory and those like it are actually good places to work monetarily speaking; in short, as the danger increases, so does the pay.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Finally, Matt ushers Ma and Kim onto the Staten Island Ferry to see the Liberty Goddess. When they finally see her, Kim thinks she's magnificent. Kim says that they're really in America, and Matt suggests that she looks like a Chinese goddess. Later, Ma notes that Matt is compassionate, embarrassing Kim.
Even though Matt is more Americanized than Kim in some ways, he's still very connected to his Chinese roots, as evidenced by his comment about the Statue of Liberty.
Themes
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
Related Quotes
Blue quotation bubble icon linking to an important quote associated with this summary and analysis.
As the ninth-grade school year starts, Kim's classmates all take placement tests in math and science. Kim loves those subjects, as they offer her an escape into a satisfyingly logical world. She tests into the accelerated math and sciences program. After a few weeks, Dr. Copeland calls Kim to her office. She expresses concern about Kim's near-perfect grades, and Kim realizes that she's still concerned that Kim is cheating. Dr. Copeland explains that Kim will have to take an oral exam, conducted by the entire math and science faculty. Kim is terrified of losing everything because she might not be able to understand the English. As she walks out of the office, Curt asks Kim if she's okay. Both Kim and Sheryl are surprised he spoke to her.
The fear that she might fail because she doesn't know enough English reminds the reader that even though Kim is doing very well at this point, she's still hyper-aware of her immigrant status and the fact that she has to work much harder than her classmates for the same things, just because she's not a native English speaker. On the plus side, the reader knows that Kim isn't cheating, so it's possible to read Dr. Copeland's suspicion as proof that Kim is smarter than she's giving herself credit for.
Themes
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon