Ralph Chang in Typical American

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Mistakes are often essential factors of one’s wisdom and future success. People can always gain precious life lessons from their flaws, which resemble the pebbles that make a stable and perfect road. In the novel Typical American written by Gish Jen, the protagonist, Ralph Chang, makes a mistake in which he shifts and tortures his original American dream to a false and ‘poisonous’ dream that causes his ultimate familial, moral and financial collapse; in other words, he fails to create a ‘China’ with traditional values in America. However, he actually becomes more mature after gaining a valuable lesson from his flaws. Because of his excessive pride and confidence, Ralph is considered a tragic hero as he commits the tragic flaws that lead to his downfall; and eventually he realizes, reflects, and learns from the mistakes and roots of his failure of his pursuit of American dream. Ralph assimilates to the materialism of ‘typical Americans’ gradually and discards the traditional Chinese values, in which he misinterprets the significance of American dream and causes his collapses. Initially, Ralph merely wants to study and earn a degree of engineering in the United States without any intention of staying. The prejudice, disdain and discrimination make him adhere more resolutely to his Chinese identity with conventional ideas and values. Even after learning that the Communists assume control in China and that his family has disappeared, he rejects American culture and brings in old values to adopt his home in America. Nevertheless, when Ralph meets his ‘friend’ Grover Ding, a completely Americanized Chinese, his original ideas and values begin to alter. In addition to his attempt to afford the daily expenses, he gradually abandons his career as a professor, disregards the relationship with his family, and makes money illegally. Ralph’s Americanized behaviors such as spending ‘an hour or so’ in his restaurant ‘every night’ ringing ‘the cash register’ (Jen 201) reveal his...
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