The latter abstract phenomenon reveals the secret of American success: immolation of morals in the name of prosperity.
Gish Jen's characters, Chinese immigrants, are between two cultures as between the devil and the deep sea, between familial dreams and their own thirst for self-definition, between the Old World traditions and shiny, new dreams of the New World. Chang family are perpetual outsiders, connoisseurs of the strange, sometimes mysterious aspects of the world around them and the odd, surprising ways in which race and discrimination and family history can confuse their sense of individuality. Chang family seems to be stumbling on the edge of American phenomenon, the identity crisis (Kakutani). As newcomers to America, they take this country's chance seriously, a prospect that would cause both liberating freedom and discord.
Ralph is the main character, whose ideals were being changed in the process of the novel. He left for America to earn an engineering degree, but he wanted to preserve all the seeds of Chinese way of life. In his mind Ralph surely discarded all tempts available for 'typical Americans' (food, women, entertainments etc) and he thought that he would never be involved into this vicious circle. Chang family mocks at American typicality of living; they make fun of Americans, who have more freedom and liberation, and 'typicality' becomes a kind of 'plague' for them. Nevertheless in the course of time, Ralph gets married, earns his doctorate in engineering, buys his first home, has two daughtersand becomes 'typical American'. Thus it's no wonder that his ambitions need release and Ralph becomes seduced in order to reach an American Dream. Ralph thinks that in America if "you have money, you can do anything. You have no money, you are nobody. You are Chinaman!" (Gish, 66). Suddenly Ralph gets 'a shot I the arm', finds an American-born con-man Grover Ding, who disrupts the harmony of Chang family lives and unties their relationships and provokes them to become "typical Americans". This man instills Chang's gluttonous materialism, marital betrayal, and personal fraudulence. Ralph is highly motivated by Ding's ideas and launches a fast-food restaurant, called Chicken Palace, which eventually fails. Fortunately, Chang family becomes united at the end of the novel and able to restore their initial morals, principles and traditions.
A struggle between values
In the characters of Ralph, Theresa, and Helen, Jen shows lives of immigrants as a struggle between old-world and new-world values; between good and evil. At first the main characters sacrificed their self-identities, got lost in the New World. In the U.S. immigrants run into changes of their Old World circumscribed roles. They have a subconscious responsibility to preserve at least some