Themes in Lawrence Chua's Gold by the Inch

Steve Katona, English 365, Northwestern University (2004)


In Gold by the Inch, the main character and narrator, an unnamed Asian-American male, is desprately looking for a pace to call home after the death of his father and the end of a troubled relationship. He has an extremely varied background, his mother coming from Thailand, his father a Malaysian migrated from China, he was born in Malaysia but grew up in New York, and was in Honolulu when his father dies. Where he belongs with such a background becomes the pinciple motivating factor for the journey he takes through multiple countries.

He first visits Thailand, which is in the midst of a "financial revolution," by which he is both interested and replsed. His brother, Luk, introduces him to various bars and clubs that deal in sex, and it is at one of these that he meets Thong, a postitute, with whom he becomes infatuated. Over time the infatuation grows into what the narrator calls love, but the actual feelings are brought into question as it is clear that the narrator is crossing into a relationship based on the expoitation and objectification of Thong; a behavior impied to be "western" in nature.

The narrator then visits Malaysia, the homeland of his father, in an attempt to determine some sort of origin for himself, but once again his search leads only to greater feelings of not belonging anywhere. The story is brought to a conclusion back in Thailand, where, amidst constant drug use and a decadent lifestyle, the main character loses sight of how he is truly acting until events sipral out of control, Thong leaves, and he is stuck alone between a collection of countries, feeling that he doesn't truly belong in any. The novel uses language and a second prson view to give the reader a sense of the issues of identity, dispacement, westernization, and various other themes. Lack of homeland and disconnectedness are also imprtant, and the search for a place to belong is the pimary motivating factor in the novel.


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

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Last modified 8 January 2005