Girl in Translation

Girl in Translation Thirteen Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ma and Kim aren't surprised when Aunt Paula calls them to her office; they know that they should hear from Yale soon. When they enter, they see two fat envelopes from Yale. Aunt Paula looks furious. She asks why Kim applied to Yale without her permission, and insists that Ma and Kim are supposed to keep her informed about everything. Kim is also furious and angrily asks if Paula would've really helped her. Paula demands that Kim open the letter. Kim does and translates her acceptance into Chinese for Ma's benefit. The other envelope contains documents giving Kim a full financial aid package. Ma proudly insists that Kim has earned the right to go to school wherever she wants.
Paula now seems to be grasping for straws as she senses that she's losing control of Ma and Kim. In reality, the scholarship means that Paula has truly lost control of them, as it gives them the freedom to escape her wrath and begin to make a better life for themselves. It also shows that in Kim's case, education is truly her ticket out—she doesn't need to question the truth of that anymore.
Themes
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Aunt Paula says that Ma and Kim are ungrateful, points out that she sacrificed to get them all to America, and then begins sobbing. Ma puts a hand on Paula's shoulder, but Paula shakes it off. She shouts that Ma has always done what she wanted and shirked her responsibilities, and reminds them again that she's suffered for Ma and Kim. Quietly, Kim says that this doesn't mean that Paula has the right to mistreat them. Both Ma and Paula are aghast, but Kim continues. She tells Paula she's aware that their living situation is illegal and being paid by the piece is illegal. Paula seems regretful as Ma begins to take Kim's side. Paula finally sputters that Ma and Kim will never be able to repay her for bringing them to the U.S., but Kim suggests Paula think about her "life debts" to the gods.
When Kim stands up to Paula and calls her out on her bad behavior so specifically, this completes Kim's coming of age in terms of independence. It shows that she no longer feels she needs to defer to Ma and behave in a properly Chinese way. In Paula's case, her words imply that she feels as though she's spent her entire life putting other people's needs first—as is expected of her in Chinese culture—and as far as she's concerned, Ma and Kim aren't appropriately thanking her for her kindness.
Themes
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Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Aunt Paula suggests that Ma and Kim leave the factory and the apartment if they feel taken advantage of, and her eyes pop when Ma says that Kim found them an apartment in Queens. Ma reminds Paula that she's repaid her debts, and as Ma and Kim leave, Kim tells Paula that she'll report her if she tries to stop them. On the street, Ma admits that she's afraid, but she feels light. Kim reminds her that they're still like mother and cub. Back at the apartment, Kim phones Mrs. Avery and explains the situation. She also mentions her acceptance to Yale. Mrs. Avery offers to provide Ma's character reference herself.
Ma and Kim are only able to take this step towards independence from Paula because they've been able to save enough money to give them some wiggle room. This shows that even a small gain in income is enough to allow them to lift themselves out of such dire poverty—but the lack of that money could keep them trapped forever. Mrs. Avery's kindness teaches Kim that asking for help will often lead to actual help—she just needs to let herself be vulnerable.
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Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Later, the doorbell rings and Kim leads Matt up into the apartment. He and Ma chat over tea and after a bit, he asks to take Kim to Chinatown for soup. Surprisingly, Ma allows them to go. On the way, Kim tells Matt about what happened with Aunt Paula, but leaves out her acceptance to Yale. They wait in line for a moment until a short man, Mr. Ho, leads Matt to a table. As they eat, Matt explains that he used to wash dishes at this restaurant.
Matt's relationship with Mr. Ho suggests that he's extremely well connected in Chinatown and has developed a sense of community for himself. Though the novel ultimately suggests that Kim's focus on education allows her to be more successful, it's also worth noting that education doesn't make her feel less alone.
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Haltingly, Matt says that when he was out with Vivian, he'd sometimes see Kim's face in front of him. He chose Vivian because she needed him, and it seemed like Kim didn't. Matt explains that he thought their kiss in the bathroom was a one-time thing but when Mrs. Wu died, he didn't care anymore; he just had to see her. Kim asks about Matt's insistence that he couldn't reach her heights, but Matt explains he just needed more time. Kim finally admits that she's been admitted to Yale. Matt congratulates her but also looks confused. In a rush, Kim says that she's moving away, but she could take him and Park with her.
Matt saying that he chose Vivian because she needed him confirms that he wants to be a provider more than anything; it's how he maintains his sense of worth. This again foreshadows that Matt and Kim's relationship cannot work out, as Kim doesn't need or want someone to care for her like that. It's also important to keep in mind that their relationship will be more difficult because of the different ways that they prioritize education and work.
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Matt says he's not sure he wants to be rescued, and says he likes Chinatown. He insists he doesn't need money or success to love someone, have kids, and make a life. He tells Kim she'd be a great mother, to which Kim says she'd be a great surgeon. Matt sits back and admits he's worried that she's going to leave him for bigger things. He says he'd go anywhere with her, but he wants to be the one to take care of her.
This conversation shows again that Matt and Kim have very different priorities when it comes to their futures. Notably, Matt also speaks as though he'd ideally like to have control over Kim's decisions. He is used to being the “man of the house,” and seems to want that in a marital relationship as well. Given Kim's independence, this won't go over well.
Themes
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The next few weeks are extremely happy for Kim. Mrs. Avery is able to arrange for Kim and Ma to move to their new apartment in a matter of weeks, and Ma gets a job at a jewelry factory. She's able to work at home and Kim's library job supplements their income. Kim plans on getting an office job over the summer as well. Kim and Curt officially break up and Matt spends all his free time with Kim. Park, however, withdraws after Mrs. Wu's death and seems nearly unreachable.
Park's unreachability suggests that this isn't all fun and games for Kim; there are still undercurrents of the real and difficult world despite her happiness. This reminds her and the reader that she still has very real obstacles to overcome—remember that the jewelry work pays even less than the garment factory.
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Kim and Matt spend time wandering around Chinatown, where she learns that Matt knows everyone. One afternoon, Kim invites Annette to join them in a Chinese café. Annette is insistent on getting a real Chinese drink, not one that's been altered for American tastes. Once, Kim catches sight of Vivian in a flower shop. She's amazed to see that Vivian's sadness seems to make her even more beautiful. Kim silently vows that she never wants to love someone so much that she'd be unable to survive without him.
Kim's vow to never love someone as much as Vivian loves Matt is a major turning point in her development, as it shows her making a conscious decision to remain emotionally independent in a way that will allow her to keep control of her own life. Again, this suggests that her relationship with Matt isn't going to work out, as that's the exact opposite of what he wants.
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Related Quotes
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Once, when Kim and Matt are lying together at his apartment, he suggests that Kim skip Yale and stay in Chinatown with him. He insists school isn't important. Kim thinks of Yale and says that she can't give up the opportunity—she could be a professor or a doctor and enable them to travel. Matt studies his hands and says he should take care of her, and he hates the idea of her being around other guys like Curt. Matt admits he's jealous. Stepping out of the narrative, Kim tells the reader that she wanted to believe then that their love was permanent, but she knows now that it was effervescent and more like a memory.
When Matt says that Yale and school aren't all that important, he demonstrates a major lack of understanding for everything Kim has worked hard for. Essentially, this moment shows Matt laying down his cards and coming out on the side of work as being the way to make it through the world. For him, the community he's able to build because of work makes his life bearable.
Themes
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Kim thinks that she's known she's pregnant ever since she saw the broken condoms. She tells Curt first and cries on his shoulder. He offers to marry her, and she can tell it's a serious offer. Kim insists that they're just friends who kiss, and Curt offers to give her money for the baby. She refuses that offer as well. When Kim leaves, Curt tries to kiss her, but she redirects his lips to her cheek. Later, Kim tells Annette. Annette insists that Kim tell Matt, but Kim explains that if he knew, he'd want them to stay in Chinatown and get married. She doesn't want to force him to stay with her, as she knows she won't be able to make him happy. Annette tells Kim that an abortion would be easiest, while a baby would make her life harder but won't end it.
The support that Kim receives from Annette and Curt (and even more importantly, the fact that she asks for it) suggests that Kim has learned the power of asking for help. In doing so, she admits that she's afraid and doesn't feel as though she's in control anymore. Notably, Kim sees marrying Matt as something that would keep her fundamentally Chinese by keeping her in Chinatown, something she rejects by wanting to go to Yale and continue her life as someone who presents as more of an American.
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Kim waits for Ma to get home and then runs to her, sobbing. Ma guides Kim to a chair and says with certainty that Kim is pregnant. Kim says she can't tell Matt, which makes Ma worried she's thinking about having an abortion. Kim cries that it's her only option and she'd never be able to support Ma, Matt, Park, and a baby. She apologizes for being stupid, but Ma haltingly says that she's sorry—Kim has had to do everything, and she's sorry she couldn't do more to help her. 
Ma's apology shows that she recognizes the sacrifices Kim made to keep the two of them afloat—most notably, the fact that Kim gave up a childhood and wasn't afforded true parental guidance, as she was forced to act like an adult herself from such a young age.
Themes
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Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
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Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Kim asks Ma if she ever worried about marrying Pa. Ma explains that when she did, she never imagined that Aunt Paula would still bring her to the U.S.—Paula had said cruelly that Ma would die in Hong Kong. Ma says that she knows she would've regretted marrying Uncle Bob and doesn't regret marrying Pa. Kim notes that choosing to be together like that isn't the same as tying Matt to her with a baby. Ma takes Kim's shoulders and admits that at first, she was afraid that Matt would lead her down the wrong path, but she knows now that Kim can't be led astray. She suggests that sometimes, one's fate is different than what one once imagined.
It’s implied that Ma knows Kim will choose Yale whether or not she chooses to continue her pregnancy. Further, Ma recognizes that this choice isn't selfish; it’s also the best way for Kim to support herself, Ma, and if she chooses, her child and Matt. However, Ma also quietly suggests that Matt isn't going to be a part of Kim's life, given what she knows of what he wants.
Themes
Poverty and Shame Theme Icon
Family, Choices, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Work vs. Education Theme Icon
Independence and Coming of Age Theme Icon