Gish Jen’s novel Typical American

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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'...

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...many realities that exist within America's society and that most do not fit the typical American dream. Even those people that achieve some measure of success, as Ralph did, are often plagued by personal problems that outweigh any measure of wealth or reputation. The lie of the American dream is that it promises to fix humanity's problems with material gain – it promises happiness from things that are not capable of giving it. And so, followers are all left unfulfilled by the great American dream, left with a reality that is much different than what was so easily guaranteed. The reality that everyone experiences, whether it is the suburban soccer mom or the tired immigrant, is that the dream is mostly unachievable. The reality we think exists is only a myth – a true mythological reality.

Works Cited

Jen, Gish. Typical American. New York: Penguin Group, 1992.

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