Girl in Translation

Girl in Translation Epilogue Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Twelve years later, Kim explains to a man named Mr. Ho that his young son, Pete, has a congenital heart defect. She shows both Mr. Ho and Pete a model of a heart and points out where exactly the problem is, and then explains that if Pete doesn't have surgery, he could eventually die. She says that fortunately, the operation will cure him. Pete asks his father if the "pretty doctor" will be there for the operation, and Mr. Ho and Kim tell Pete that she's the surgeon and will be with him the whole 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 if he'd give Matt her card and tell him she says hi. Mr. Ho agrees.
Kim's conversation with Pete and Mr. Ho shows that she did follow her belief in the importance of education, attended Yale, and became a doctor. When Pete calls Kim the pretty doctor, it suggests that one of Kim's teenage dreams did come true: she spent much of high school wanting to be pretty like the other girls, and at least in a young boy's eyes, she's now considered beautiful.
Themes
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age 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 Chinatown, though she doesn't expect him to ever walk into her department, which is pediatric cardiac surgery. Once she went looking for him in Chinatown and finally saw him going into a bridal shop. She noticed Matt's daughter in the window and watched the girl run to Matt. Seeing that, Kim remembers why she lied to Matt twelve years ago: to keep their child from being doomed to a lifetime of factory work.
Kim's narration indicates that the girl and the girl's father in the prologue were certainly Matt and his daughter. The "lie" to Matt could mean that Kim did terminate her pregnancy without him knowing. Her decision to do it for the fate of her child shows that she understands that staying with Matt would've meant a lifetime of factory work for her and her child, something she believes is cruel and unsustainable.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Early one Saturday morning, Kim stops in at the hospital to check on a newborn patient who'd had surgery the night before. She doesn't bother to change out of her motorcycle gear. As Kim wonders if she chose her work, which 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 Matt. She invites him to her office and tries not to bump into him as they walk. He admires her diplomas as Kim tries to casually flip over the one photo she has on her desk. Matt assures her he doesn't want to see her husband.
Kim still seems to use education as a crutch to detach emotionally, just as she did as a teen when she didn't get emotionally involved with the boys at Harrison. In this case, it suggests that her heart has something to say (presumably, that she still loves Matt) and she desperately doesn't want to have to listen to it. Her many diplomas signal to Matt and to the reader that Kim was very successful as she pursued her higher education.
Themes
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Kim asks after Park and Vivian. Matt explains that he and Park are working at UPS, while Vivian started work in a bridal shop after her father's business closed down. He says she may become the manager, though Kim doesn't believe it and can tell that Matt doesn't either. Matt admits that she modeled for a short time, but he was too jealous to let her continue. Kim asks Matt how he is, lays a hand on his cheek, and starts to say that she has to tell him something. Matt says he knew that Kim was pregnant and had an abortion. He says that's why he went back to Vivian; it broke his heart that Kim never gave him a chance to choose.
When Matt admits to cutting Vivian's modeling career short, it again illustrates how his jealousy and his desire to be the sole provider for his family means that he takes it upon himself to shut down his romantic partners' decisions, especially when they're more profitable than his own. He previously attempted to do the same thing to Kim when he asked her to give up Yale for him.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
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Kim says that she regrets what she did, but she felt 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 works eighty-hour weeks, and insists that if she'd had the baby, he wouldn't have had a choice. Matt points out that she didn't have to become a surgeon; he could've taken care of her. Softly, Kim says she couldn't change who she was, and she had to care for Ma. Matt's eyes fill with tears as he says that their baby paid the price.
Notice that Kim frames the situation as one in which she had no choice but to continue with her education. When Matt points out that he could've taken care of her, it shows that he absolutely prioritizes his own desires about his life over Kim's, as is very willing to ask her to give up everything with no indication of ever reciprocating.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education 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 her. She thinks that she's been hoping that if Matt knew the full story, they could somehow be together, even though she knows it's not possible. Kim asks why Matt even came, and he says that he came to say goodbye.
Kim's mental note about the "full story" suggests there's more to what happened than the reader and Matt are currently aware of. This implies that Kim is making some sort of sacrifice that she can only continue to make if this information stays secret.
Themes
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 ride on Matt's delivery bike. She stops around the corner from his apartment and listens to the nearby highway. They look at each other sadly and then Kim touches Matt's gold necklace, the same one he used to wear at the factory. They kiss, and Kim feels as though she's lived her entire life for this kiss. She wonders if she made the right decision. When they break apart, Matt gives Kim the necklace and says that he'll tell Vivian he lost it.
A motorcycle is, notably, a risk to ride—this suggests that in adulthood, Kim has discovered that taking risks can be thrilling and not a bad thing. The highway near Matt's apartment shows that he's likely not living in a great neighborhood, given the noise that would come from a highway.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Kim and Matt say goodbye, and Kim watches him walk into his apartment. She begins to ride away, but stops down the block and looks back. She watches Matt step out onto the fire escape and notes all the plants. Kim thinks that Vivian should have her garden; thanks to Ma, it's filled with so much produce, Ma constantly offers extra to the neighbors. As Kim watches, Vivian comes out to join Matt. Matt holds her as they look out on the city.
The fact that Vivian can support houseplants suggests that she and Matt likely have some disposable income, though Kim's mention of Ma's garden indicates that she and Ma have much more to spare now. In short, while Vivian and Matt may be doing well for themselves, they're still likely living in poverty.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
As Kim 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 she'd let go of. By the time Kim gets home, she feels better. She thinks she could even be glad she gave Matt his happiness with Vivian. As she parks and starts up the walkway, her twelve-year-old son, Jason, barrels out the door with his gym bag. In near-perfect Chinese, he insists he's going to be late for baseball practice. Kim thinks he looks so much like Matt that Matt would've recognized him in an instant if he'd seen Jason's photo in her office. Kim reminds Jason of their special goodbye. He performs it, kisses Kim goodbye, and pedals away.
By keeping it a secret from Matt that she went on to have Jason, Kim allows Matt to live the simple and happy life he wanted to have with either her or Vivian. It's also important to recognize that in making this decision, Jason is allowed to have a real childhood and not have to take on adult responsibilities as a young child, like Kim did. As evidenced by his baseball practice he's clearly involved in after-school sports and likely other activities as well—not working in a factory.
Themes
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Ma is wiping off her piano in the living room when Kim gets inside. Ma says without looking up that the vet called, though the cat seems to be fine. Kim says nothing; she's gone out with the vet a few times, but she no longer tells Ma about the men she dates. Ma wants her to marry all of them. Kim excuses herself, locks herself in her room, and puts on a CD of an opera she and Ma saw at the Met. She lies on her bed with Matt's necklace and thinks back on everything.
The piano symbolizes Ma and Kim's final success: Kim has made enough money to allow Ma to have the luxury of music that she spent so long without. In doing so, Kim is able to give back to Ma and thank her for the sacrifices she made when she was a child and for the years of factory work.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Kim explains that both Ma and Annette had gone with her to her abortion appointment. They sat outside as a tech performed an ultrasound to confirm the length of her pregnancy. As soon as Kim saw the tiny fetus jumping around on the screen, she loved him. Part of it had to do with the fact that the baby was Matt's. Kim had wondered if she could make it work with Matt, but when she learned that he'd gone back to Vivian, she decided to accept that she'd never have been able to make Matt happy.
By going through with having Jason, Kim gets to keep Matt with her in some ways. This reinforces just how much Kim did truly love Matt, given that his paternity was one of the most important factors in her decision. In accepting that she couldn't make Matt happy, Kim also chooses to look forward, for both herself and Jason.
Themes
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Jason loved Kim desperately, though she was away for much 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 come home. Kim deferred Yale for a year to have him. She and Ma worked on jewelry at home and then Kim took a job sorting mail at night. At Yale, with the help of scholarships and loans, things were easier. She went on to attend Harvard Medical School and finally, became a surgeon.
The many struggles that Kim went through in order to pursue her education and raise her son reinforce Ma's earlier assertion that Kim's trajectory couldn't be shaken: she was truly destined to do well academically and become a high-powered medical professional. The fact that she was able to do it against these odds is testament to her talent for school and her desire to give herself, Ma, and Jason a better life.
Themes
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Kim thinks that she gave Matt his life with Vivian and his children, though she took away his life with her and Jason. She recognizes that in keeping Jason hidden from Matt, she's depriving her son of his father—Jason is paying the price for Matt's happiness. Kim isn't sure what she'll tell Jason when he starts to ask about his father. Kim listens to the music, takes a deep breath, and leaves her bedroom.
Even though to the reader, Jason seems to have lucked out (in that he doesn't have to work in a factory), it's possible that he won't necessarily see it that way. He may, like Annette, simply not be able to grasp what that life is like. However, Kim suggests that she believes her ability to give this blindness to her son is a gift, even if it’s also a sacrifice.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
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