Alienation in Lawrence Chua's Gold by the Inch

Anthony Floriani, English 365, Northwestern University (2004)


The narrator of Gold by the Inch is a man from Penang in Malaysia. When he returns home however, he is greeted by a very different pace than that which he had left. It is expained of the narrator that "Your rich boyfriends indulged you in all the polished crevices of Europe and North America always drag you back here" (Chua 19). Essentially, his roots and culture draw him back to his former home in Thailand, but he is now a foreigner there. He can't speak the language with any more proficiency than he could when he was a little boy, and he complains about how the language is dead in him, stunted before he ever mastered it (Chua 36). He is even alienated from his own family, as they always seem to treat him "As if [he] were some fucking tourist" reminding him of all the things that there are to see and do in the town (Chua 63). Indeed, what he notices most in Penang are the changes commercialism have wrought upon the landscape. He observes the new shoping malls, the McDonalds, and the Colonel Sanders portrait hanging where an old monument used to be, all harkening economic change (Chua 65-66). In this sense, the narrator expriences the alienation of having lived his life far from home only to return and find that the home he once knew is no longer there. In fact, his home is gone in a very literal sense, as his Uncle was paid to relocate by the Catholic Church which owned the land (Chua 51). The pace he once called home is now a Catholic seminary. It is easy to see that these alienating events are brought on by cash flow. The commercial domination of the area, to the point where people dressed as hamburgers and French fries parade around a local McDonalds frightening children, as well as the buying off of the narrator's uncle for his childhood home, all have their roots in the warpng economic landscape of the area.


Chua, Lawrence. Gold by the Inch. New York: Grove Press, 1999.

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Last modified 8 January 2005