Girl in Translation

Underwear Symbol Icon

When Kim begins school at Harrison Prep and has to change for gym class in front of female classmates, her homemade underwear and lack of a bra soon make her a bullying target. The conflicts and arguments she and Ma have over Kim's underwear come to encapsulate Kim's experience of being caught between two cultures: Ma simply doesn't understand why anyone is even looking at Kim's underwear in the first place, as such a thing doesn't happen in Chinese culture, while Kim knows that one's underwear are a marker of fitting in and feels extremely self-conscious that she doesn't. When Ma concedes and purchases Kim a package of American underwear and a training bra, it symbolizes Kim's transition to being more of an American girl than a Chinese one.

Underwear Quotes in Girl in Translation

The Girl in Translation quotes below all refer to the symbol of Underwear. 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.
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:
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Underwear Symbol Timeline in Girl in Translation

The timeline below shows where the symbol Underwear appears in Girl in Translation. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Three
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...Kong and so the bitter cold of New York is especially jarring. She doesn't have underwear like the other girls, and so wears two layers of pajamas under her pants. She... (full context)
Five
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...back. She knows Ma wouldn't be able to afford those shorts; Ma still makes Kim's underwear. Kim as the adult narrator notes that while she was very concerned with looking as... (full context)
Seven
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
In the locker room, Kim's classmates begin changing. They all have store-bought underwear and some have bras. Kim is envious; she's begun growing breasts, but doesn't yet have... (full context)
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
...clothes. When Ma asks Kim about her day, Kim says first that she needs new underwear. Ma insists that no decent girl would look at her underwear and Kim feels unspeakably... (full context)
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...boxer shorts. Finally, Kim has the evidence she needs to convince Ma she needs real underwear. She spends the rest of the week trying to hide while she changes, as Sheryl... (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 Macy's to find a bra. None of... (full context)