112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

A Ride to America: Cars in Gish Jen's Typical American

Chia-feng Chang, Northern Illinois University

Cars in Gish Jen's Typical American symbolize the Chinese immigrants' mobility in assimilation. When the Changs pursue their American Dream, cars display the complexity of their American experiences, and also demonstrate their ability to balance both their Chinese and American identities. 


            Gish Jen's Typical American presents a story of Chinese immigrants' lives in the United States. Naturally, there are many cultural conflicts in this novel because of these immigrant characters' Chinese backgrounds. These conflicts have led critics to interpret this text with their focus on the problems of Chinese immigrants' assimilation into the United States. They all mention that the fantasy of American wealth that allures Chinese immigrants to the United Sates causes the downfall of Ralph both financially and morally. In their analyses of the real and imagined boundaries faced by the characters in the novel, critics tend to suggest that an assimilationist culture requires immigrants to abandon their heritage while still denying them the status of real Americans.

            However, these characters' American experiences exhibit a possibility that these immigrants could overcome all the hardships and they could balance their Chinese and American identities. Their balance is like Homi K. Bhabha's idea of hybridity which shows the constant in-between mindset of people living on borders. The characters' interaction with cars in this novel embodies this special hybridity. Through cars, they show their ambivalent attitude toward becoming American. Although they are seduced by the materialist affluence represented by cars, they simultaneously try to maintain their Chinese customs by using the car to keep the family together. The car's function as a means of transportation highlights the mobility of Chinese immigrants' American experiences.