Western Exploitation in Lawrence Chua's Gold by the Inch

Steve Katona, English 365, Northwestern University (2004)


The levels of western expoitation and influence in Thailand and Malaysia are represented in this book by the main character's slow deterioration into the same behavior of those "others" with whom he a troubled relationship in America and France. Until the very end when he begins taking Rohypol to forget what he's done, the narrator doesn't see the slow transformation he is going through that leaves him an expoitive, controlling, and money-oriented person, like the sex tourists that visit the country. At one point in the story he asks, "but what do you care? You have enough plastic in your pcket to buy this whole fucking muba" (154). Money has become a dominating issue in his life; he doesn't care about his encounter with Thong as much as he enjoys the sense that he can control -- and use -- everything around him with his cash. Later, on the same page, Lek tries to expain this to him by saying, "He doesn't love you, he loves your money" (154), but the narrator can't understand this. He has confused consumerism, commodities, and control with actually loving someone.

The change into a western "exploiter" and "other" continues during an encounter with a native who corrects him on a simple point of etiquette. The main character tells the reader, "I wish people here would stop trying to teach me the fine points of my own fucking culture, you know" (170). Finally, his true level of "western-ness" comes to a head when Thong tells him, "This is just a vacation for you, isn't it" (201). The entire thing has indeed been like a vacation for him; one in which he felt he could behave as he wanted, and do to people as he wished because he came from New York and had money. From the second-person persepective of the novel both western expoitation and the main character's plunge into depravity appear in the line, "In the end, you are just an American darker than the rest, doing things in Thailand you can never do at home. This makes you invincible" (201). The narrator finally realizes that, because he did not belong in either Thailand or Malaysia, he has simpy become another tourist, exploiting the two countries and pope in them because they are not a home to him, just a pace he is pssing through.


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

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Last modified 8 January 2005