Girl in Translation


Jean Kwok

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Girl in Translation, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Poverty and Shame

In Girl in Translation, Kim and Ma are able to immigrate to the United States thanks to the kindness of Ma's older sister, Aunt Paula—prior to the start of the novel, Aunt Paula and her husband, Uncle Bob, paid for Ma's tuberculosis treatment and sponsored their immigration fees. Ma expects that upon her arrival in the U.S., she'll repay these debts to her sister's family by providing in-home childcare and Chinese lessons…

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Family, Choices, and Sacrifice

Throughout the novel, Ma and Kim remind each other often that they are like a "mother and cub"; they are all the other has. Because of the many obstacles facing them, most notably crushing poverty, a substandard living arrangement, and inhumane working conditions, both women are forced to sacrifice for each other over and over again as they make their way through life in New York as Chinese immigrants. By exploring the ways in which…

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Work vs. Education

Immediately upon their arrival in the United States, Chinese immigrants Ma and Kim begin working at Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob's garment factory in Chinatown. There, Ma and Kimberly perform backbreaking labor putting finishing touches on garments and hanging them in garment bags, often staying at the factory until late into the night. As Kim helps Ma at the factory, she quickly becomes aware that the factory offers roles for every member of one's…

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Independence and Coming of Age

After her move to New York from Hong Kong, eleven-year-old Kim is immediately faced with having to grow up and become independent long before she's truly ready to do so. By exploring the many instances in which Kim is forced to either act alone or prematurely act like an adult, as well as the consequences of this on such a young child, Girl in Translation ultimately suggests that being forced to grow up so fast…

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The Immigrant Experience

As Girl in Translation follows Kim and Ma's journeys, it pays special attention to the ways in which both of them, but particularly Kim, think of and handle their status as Chinese immigrants. For Kim, being an immigrant entails rejecting many of the conventions surrounding how to be properly female and Chinese in order to be successful at school. For Ma, the difficulty and foreignness of life in the U.S. provides the justification for…

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