Typical American by Gish Jen
The book Typical American by Gish Jen is a detailed account of a one, Ralph Chang’s life before he comes to America to chase his dream and after his arrival, the friends he makes and his struggles and achievements. Ralph and Grover are two main characters in the book and they are seen to have many differences but they have one main and major similarity which is their greed for money and their selfless desire to achieve the American dream. Ralph was a person who believed in hard work and always doing the right thing before he meets with Grover. Grover has a huge influence on Ralph’s life “He was a man with a mission; what mattered was that he registers for the right courses, that he attend the right classes, that he buy the right books” (17). The author manages to depict the inclinations the American dream imposes on all individuals regardless of their initial belief systems as exemplified by the two main characters Ralph and Grover.
From the book, the reader is able to see the difference in beliefs and practices between two major characters, Ralph and Grover. For instance Ralph believes in studying then getting employed so as to earn a living”. On the way to America, Yifeng studied” (26). Grover on the other hand is business minded and thinks of ways to make money quickly through business projects. A good example where this is seen is where Grover convinces Ralph to leave school so that they can open a hotel business that they would name ‘Chicken Palace’ with an aim of generating a substantial amount of income. Despite Grover’s optimism, the project fails miserably and Ralph considers going back to his studies. Sure enough, joins school once more, where he pursues and completes his Doctorate and gets a good job. Grover’s charm works on Ralph as we see him acquiring the money mind….”Money, in this country, you have money, you can do anything. You have no money, you are nobody. You are Chinaman! Is that simple!” (67).
Ralph unlike Grover is honest in his dealings and believes in honesty. Grover on the other hand is actually quite a good con man and he is depicted in the book to be much Americanized. Grover believes in greed and is so materially based and very dishonest. Ralph believes in “spending and investing money to make more money”. Grover is not even close in matching up to these standards. He comes out as a character desperate in all his dealings and plays with the minds of others so as to accomplish his own selfish needs. Another great difference between the two is that Ralph is seen to have confidence in himself and believes that any goal can be achieved as long as one sets their mind to it and works toward it. Grover on the contrary is a lazy person who sits and waits for opportune moments to enable him get his pay for the day.
Ralph is also seen to be futuristic and believes in planning, while his newly found companion lives for the day. Grover is narrow-minded and is never concerned what tomorrow will bring toward him. Grover is not that much of a problem solver, unlike his friend Ralph who is seen to have a solution to almost every problem that comes along his way. For Ralph the sky is always the limit and he believes that he can achieve anything unlike Grover who is seen to be a poor goal setter and has a mentality that there are things he can not be able to achieve. Unlike Grover, Ralph has a mind set that he can do anything regardless of what it might entail. Grover has very poor ambition but utilizes opportunities that come his way.
Though he is a dreamer, Ralph is not courageous enough to take on challenges head on; he requires Grover’s wit to do that. This depicts Grover’s confidence and how he helps Ralph try to achieve his dream. Grover has more strength when it comes to worldly matters and is able to know a few tricks here and there about the harsh American street lifestyle; he calls himself “the self made millionaire” (39). He guides Ralph through this journey. Ralph appears to be living the right life and having achieved his dream of living the American dream while Grover is seen to solve the problems he encounters for a day and gets them back the next. Though both of them are quite high achievers, one gets his wealth in a positive way and the other in a not so positive but cunning and selfish way.
The two men however have several similarities that are highlighted by the author. They have the obsession of making it in life. They are too success oriented to see anything else as important in life. The two are also too concerned of their social caste and work extremely hard to rise higher and higher in their social class. Ralph and Grover have a very high sense of self pride. They all bear the male chauvinist characteristic and believe that they come first then the others follow. They all drop their tradition and are quickly assimilated in the immoral society of the American streets. Their quest to succeed is what is seen the most in the book. The author is successful in showing how the two will stop at nothing even the people who matter the most to them in order to achieve the so called American dream.
In conclusion, we see the author delivering her opinion in showing the different lifestyles that both men live. She is successful in the delivery of the differences and also the similarities between the two characters compared above. The book is successful in the narration of the life stories of the three young Chinese immigrants that live in America seeking education to mature their careers and build their lives. The author is also clear in explaining how after the Second World War, during the post war period of economic hardships, how this young man Ralph makes his way to America, a land where his sister went to, to seek his destiny. The book outlines how he met Grover and how this young man greatly influences his life, decisions and way of thinking. We also understand from the book that Ralph gets married and begets two children. We are told of his married life and how he struggles to please five people who have the most influence over his life or we can say control his life. The people are his parents, his wife, his children, his friend and his sister let alone himself.