Typical American Additional Summary

Gish Jen


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Yifeng Chang leaves China for the United States and graduate study in engineering. He is given the name Ralph by the foreign affairs secretary of the university he attends in New York City. Ralph, however, cannot return to China because, in 1948, Chinese communists take over Manchuria. U.S. authorities will not allow him to return to his homeland, and he fails to take their offer to become a U.S. citizen. He soon has visa problems and has to move constantly to avoid immigration authorities. He is forced to drop out of school and ends up with no job, no family, no education, and no visa.

Ralph’s older sister, Theresa Chang, is living in China and is engaged to be married. Her fiancé, however, runs off with his father’s concubine, so Theresa takes a job with a delicate young woman in Shanghai, who becomes her friend. When the communists take over their homeland, the two women emigrate to the United States, and Theresa renames her new friend Helen. She meets Ralph, who falls in love with her. The two soon marry and move into an apartment, a rundown walk-up in Manhattan, with Theresa.

Helen has a difficult time adjusting to her new life in the United States, even with Ralph and Theresa in her life. She attends English classes, becomes pregnant, and, one day, even manages to fix the apartment-building heater herself. Theresa is in medical school. To motivate Ralph to go back to school, both women soon claim that they have lost their scholarships. Helen becomes friends with Janis, a woman in her English class who is married to a professor, Old Chao. Chao is Ralph’s colleague in the university’s engineering department.

Helen and Janis plot to fix Theresa up with Grover Ding, a fully assimilated and apparently successful Chinese American businessman. Theresa gets her medical degree, and Ralph finishes his degree and gets a tenure-track job at the university. Ralph and Helen have two daughters, Callie and then Mona.

Time passes, and the three immigrants become U.S. citizens. Ralph gets his driver license and then buys a car. All three adults now feel...

(The entire section is 857 words.)