Gish Jen’s Novel Typical American Essay

1315 words - 5 pages

Gish Jen’s novel Typical American
A mother drives her three kids to soccer practice in a Ford minivan while her husband stays at the office, rushing to finish a report. Meanwhile, a young woman prays her son makes his way home from the local grocery without getting held up at knife point by the local gang. Nearby, an immigrant finishes another 14-hour shift at the auto parts factory, trying to provide for his wife and child, struggling to make way in a new land. Later, a city girl hails a cab to meet her girlfriends at their favorite club to celebrate her new promotion over cosmopolitans. These people – the suburban soccer mom, the tired immigrant, the worried mother from the hood, and the successful city girl – each represent the different realities or fantasies that exist in the American society. They are all living or working towards what they believe to be the coveted American dream. Some of these people are similar to the Chinese immigrant, Ralph, in Gish Jen’s novel Typical American. However, all are confused as to what the American dream really is and whether or not the dream is real.
Ralph embarks for America not knowing “where or what America is,” but almost immediately upon his arrival in the United States he is confronted with the realities of being a Chinese immigrant (Jen 3). Spotting the coastline at the end of his voyage across the Pacific, Ralph is entranced with the Golden Gate Bridge; “That splendor! That radiance...an image of freedom, and hope” (Jen 7). Furthermore, upon his arrival in New York City, Ralph notes that “the idea of city still gleamed then…a place that promised to be recalled as an era…He was awed…the mundane details of life impressed him too…only he saw these things” (Jen 8). Ralph's first impression of American is that everything glows with magnificence and democracy. He has the common perception that so many young Americans have; the idea that because of the country they live in, who they are, and where they come from, there are opportunities that are rightfully theirs and little can go wrong in getting what they want for their future. For Ralph and many young Americans, this fantasy quickly proves false as they grow up and experience life. In the novel, Ralph’s perception of New York City and America changes almost as quickly as it was originally formed. He is immediately confronted with a language barrier, leaving him lost and disconnected from his new world. Soon enough, Ralph "was beginning to know what was what. He was lonely still…New York lost its gleam. He drifted through its streets as if through an exhausted, dusty land, no detail of which has changed in a thousand years" (Jen 13–14). Ralph’s hardships clearly show that coming and surviving in America as an immigrant is not what most perceives it to be. Instead, the everyday realities of life in America quickly lose that idealistic gleam which has been polished and revered over so many years, held in the minds of Americans...

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