The Hidden Labor of Women in Gish Jen’s Typical American

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Robert Ullrich


This essay examines the contributions of Helen and Theresa as immigrant women in Gish
Jen’s Typical American, chiefly their work as women in post-World War II America and their ability
to pursue the American dream without a complete loss of their Chinese identity. As they become
“typical” Americans, Helen and Theresa remain cognizant of cultural tension and forge meaningful
connections to their ancestral past under the pressure to assimilate. This essay explores those
connections in how Helen and Theresa keep a Chinese home and virtues, including an obligation to
family, academic success, and the preservation of relationships. Unlike Ralph, Helen and Theresa
draw from an experience of limitations in China, which enables them to navigate boundaries and
pressures in American life. Through Helen and Theresa, Jen insinuates that the pursuit of the
American dream obscures the contributions and labor of immigrant women. Their unrecognized
efforts, whether providing a culturally rich home, financial support, family care, or supportive
relationships, provide discreet and inconspicuous stability to the Chang family.

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How to Cite
Ullrich, R. (2021). The Hidden Labor of Women in Gish Jen’s Typical American. Humanities Bulletin, 4(1), 230–243. Retrieved from