Girl in Translation

Ma's Violin and Piano Symbol Analysis

Ma's Violin and Piano Symbol Icon

One of the few things that Ma brings to New York with her is her violin. She was a music teacher in Hong Kong, and throughout her life, her violin and music in general have stood in as symbols for her dreams and her happiness with her life, despite the odds. This symbolism is intensified in New York, as playing the violin is the only way that Ma is able to connect with her old self and remember her identity as a musician. The few times per week that she plays violin help Ma and Kim both maintain their hope that their situation will improve. In the epilogue, Kim makes a specific note to mention the piano in her living room. This upgrade to a larger and far more expensive instrument signifies that Kim and Ma have truly made it, and suggests that Ma is able to reconnect with an old version of herself thanks to Kim's success.

Ma's Violin and Piano Quotes in Girl in Translation

The Girl in Translation quotes below all refer to the symbol of Ma's Violin and Piano. 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.
Seven Quotes

How could I have thought that it had been a personal note for me? I burned with shame at wanting so much to be liked, to belong to a circle of friends, that I had picked up something during a test.

Related Characters: Kim (speaker), Dr. Copeland, Tammy, Mrs. Reynolds
Related Symbols: Ma's Violin and Piano
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:
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Ma's Violin and Piano Symbol Timeline in Girl in Translation

The timeline below shows where the symbol Ma's Violin and Piano 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
...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 Paula seems embarrassed as... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...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 and... (full context)
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
...speak to Aunt Paula about the state of their apartment. Then she pulls out her violin and plays a Chinese lullaby. (full context)
Three
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...from the factory and never goes to bed before Kim. She tries to play her violin, but it's too cold for her to properly move her fingers. (full context)
Six
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...and Ma struggle to keep the roaches and rodents at bay and Ma plays her violin on Sunday evenings. Ma tells Kim that she plays so she doesn't forget who she... (full context)
Eight
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Epilogue
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 without looking up that the... (full context)