Girl in Translation

Girl in Translation Four Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mr. Bogart 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 Mrs. Avery formally, which seems to surprise Mrs. Avery. Annette and her little brother fight over a comic book on the drive to Annette's house, and Kim is immediately struck by how grand the house is. There's a chandelier, fresh fruit, and pets. Kim is scared of the animals; she believes they bite and have fleas and germs. Mrs. Avery shows Kim how to pet the cat and assures her that there are no fleas.
The pets are another way in which Kim discovers that America is very different from what she's used to in Hong Kong; her beliefs about animals are likely rooted in personal experience or conventional wisdom specific to Hong Kong. Mrs. Avery is one adult who is willing to get down on Kim's level and begin to break down her belief that all American adults are mean and out to get her.
Themes
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Mrs. Avery introduces Kim to the housekeeper, whom Kim greets with a handshake. The housekeeper makes Kim and Annette a snack of yellow cheese on Ritz crackers and finally, Annette leads Kim to her room. It's filled with toys, and Kim feels the warmest and happiest she's felt since arriving in the U.S. As Annette's brother pesters them, Kim wishes that Ma could worry about her behavior. Finally, Kim and Annette turn to their diorama. Mrs. Avery has laid out all manner of materials and the girls finish quickly.
Annette's room shows Kim what the U.S. could be—warm, happy, and friendly. Kim's thought about wanting Ma to be able to worry about her behavior shows that because of Ma and Kim's poverty, Kim has no option but to behave. She also has no extra time or energy to act out at all.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
When they're finished, Kim asks Mrs. Avery to drop her off at the school. Mrs. Avery starts to protest, but then agrees. As she lets Kim out, she invites Kim for dinner any time. Kim 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 Annette to their apartment to repay the debt.
It's likely that Mrs. Avery suspects that Kim's living situation is subpar, but it's important to note that she treats Kim like an adult and doesn't pry. Though this is one way for Mrs. Avery to respect Kim, it also allows Kim to continue feeling like an adult alone in the world.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Blue quotation bubble icon linking to an important quote associated with this summary and analysis.
Though Ma has a green card and is legally allowed to work, she still gets paid in cash like the illegal workers so that Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob can take their debt payment directly from Ma's paycheck. By the time they've taken money for the tuberculosis medicine, rent, and immigration fees, Ma and Kim get very little money. One afternoon, Ma tries to ask Uncle Bob about getting a new apartment, as Kim is still sick from the cold. He insists that Paula will take care of it and buys Kim an iced tea.
The fact that there are illegal workers who get paid in cash offers one more way that Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob skirt the law in order to make a profit. While they're certainly doing a good thing by employing vulnerable people, they’re also exploiting them, and their employees have almost no power to push back on their ill treatment.
Themes
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
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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 a plastic plant that costs $1.99, or 133 skirts. On the last day of school before Christmas vacation, Kim presents the plant to Annette as she gets out of Mrs. Avery's car. Annette is puzzled and asks if it makes noise; Kim later realizes that Annette thought it was a toy. Mrs. Avery thanks Kim and Annette gives Kim a small package. It contains a panda bear keychain and Kim loves it immediately.
Ma and Kim's choice of gift shows that they're still very much adjusting to American cultural norms; it seems fairly inappropriate when Annette gets it. Regardless, the fact that Ma and Kim spend valuable money on a gift for Annette suggests that they understand the importance of fostering the friendship.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
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, Ma walks into the school and offers Mr. Bogart a takeout box, saying "Merry X-y-masy." Mr. Bogart opens the box, which contains a drumstick. Kim can't read Mr. Bogart's expression. The female teacher next to Mr. Bogart saves the situation, telling Ma that Kim is adjusting well.
Again, Ma's choice of gift (and of giving it to Mr. Bogart in such a public place) reinforces that she's still at a loss when it comes to American customs, though her intentions are entirely good.
Themes
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 in exchange for all his help. Gently, Matt gives the panda back, and Kim is torn between feeling relieved and disappointed. She asks about a bruise on Matt's face. He tries to sound nonchalant as he says that he was standing up for Park. Later, Kim and Ma give Mr. Al an elephant from Chinatown to bring him good luck.
In the case of Mr. Al, an elephant from Chinatown is, fortunately, an extremely appropriate gift given his interest in Chinese culture. The fact that Ma and Kim are trying at all to appropriately observe an American and Christian holiday shows that they do desperately want to assimilate into their new home.
Themes
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Kim had heard of Santa Claus, but she'd always been told that he didn't visit warm places like Hong Kong. She fully expects him 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 there's no Santa Claus, but thinks that Ma is more than enough.
Here, Santa Claus functions much like Kim's father does in her imagination: she wishes he were there to take some of the burden of growing up off of her. Realizing Santa isn't real is one more way that Kim is forced to grow up and realize that Ma is all she has.
Themes
Independence and Coming of Age 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 to go to work as usual, hoping the fur will still be there when they head home. Fortunately, it is. With the lime green fur, Ma makes robes, sweaters, and pants, as well as curtains and tablecloths. Though it's scratchy, Kim and Ma are finally warm at night.
The lime green faux fur reinforces the absurdity of Ma and Kim's living situation. It has the potential to be funny in any other situation, but in theirs, it simply makes it extremely clear that Aunt Paula is forcing them to remain in horribly inhumane living conditions.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Chinese new year arrives at the end of January. The factory closes, as no Chinese person will work on that day. Per Chinese belief, 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 the altars in the kitchen. When this is done, they burn sacred papers in their backyard and pray together for their future.
The factory closes on the Chinese New Year, suggesting that the factory is very bound up in Chinese tradition and may, in some ways, use those traditions to its advantage. This is supported by the fact that so many children work in the factory, which feeds into the conception of familial loyalty.
Themes
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
The next Sunday, Ma and Kim notice lights on at Mr. Al's shop, an unusual occurrence. They decide not to bother him, but he notices them and invites them inside. He explains that he's sorting things in preparation for moving, something that shocks Kim: Mr. Al has become their friend and advocates for them at the local grocery store. Mr. Al says that the street is going to be demolished, though it could happen next year or in ten years. He insists that the landlords won't do anything about the apartments on the block because of this. He's leaving in March.
The block is going to be demolished, so Ma and Kim may have some hope of getting out of their freezing apartment. However, losing Mr. Al means that they'll be on their own in their neighborhood and will need to make their own way. This suggests that the small community they are building is fragile and liable to dissolve; it's not something dependable for them.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon