Unpolished Gem

by

Alice Pung

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Gold Symbol Icon

Gold symbolizes security, wealth, and success within Unpolished Gem. In Phnom Penh under the Khmer Rouge regime, Pol Pot closes the banks and turns their money into “worthless pieces of dirty paper,” and only gold retains its value. Once the Pungs leave Cambodia, Kien still buries gold in the backyard to remind her of her life in the old country. She also earns her living making gold jewelry out of her garage, but she considers it too precious a metal to wear herself. While Kien spends all her time selling gold, Alice argues that it is the gold that really owns Kien. Making gold jewelry wrecks her skin and lungs, keeps her from her family, and ultimately leaves her unable to work. Alice also draws a powerful connection between gold and self-worth when she realizes that she is in fact “gold not yellow.” Alice’s connections with gold suggests that family, not material wealth or gold, is the best indicator of success.

Gold Quotes in Unpolished Gem

The Unpolished Gem quotes below all refer to the symbol of Gold. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Plume edition of Unpolished Gem published in 2006.
Prologue Quotes

He steps out onto the footpath, away from the damp smells of the market. This is the suburb of madcap Franco Cuzzo and his polished furniture, the suburb that made Russell Crowe rich and famous for shaving his head and beating up ethnic minorities, so it doesn’t really matter that these footpaths are not lined with gold but dotted with coruscating black circles where people spat out gum eons ago. “Don’t swallow the rubber candy,” mothers say to their kids. “Spit it out. Spit it out now—that’s right, onto the ground there.” Ah, this wondrous new country where children are scared of dying because they have swallowed some Spearmint Wrigley’s, not because they stepped on a condensed milk tin filled with ammunition!

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Kuan Pung
Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 3-4
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4 Quotes

My grandmother was meant to be a part of me forever, so that I would always know that there was a life before me, and a life after me. My grandmother and her stories. What would I do without them? She asserted my existence before I knew I had one—before I was conscious I had a life beyond the present—and she told me my childhood. “Agheare, when you were small you could recite long Teochew songs and poems.” “Agheare, when you were small you could speak in Cantonese.” It seemed as if I could do anything when I was small. We slept in the same bed, and it was always warm. Now there would be no one left to remind me of my roots, no one to tell me to be proud to be part of a thousand-year-old culture, no one to tell me that I was gold not yellow.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Huyen Thai
Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue Quotes

Then, four weeks later, I decided that one of the little ones had to go. It was time. I imagined they were quivering in their cotton-wool padded prison, I was so excited. But when the drawer was opened—horror of all horrors, worse than finding my fortunes furtively stolen—ants spilled out and the bunny had melted and the goo that gushed from the eggs had wrecked my box. I didn’t care about the ants that would crawl up my arms, I pulled the whole drawer out of the cupboard and dug my hands in deep. While Alexander and Andrew watched, I started pulling out each egg one by one—or what was left of them—trying in desperation to find one that was not insect-infested, trying to sort through the foil and frustration, not wanting to believe that these squished tragedies were once my pride and joy, the things I had looked forward to most in the world for more than four weeks.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Huyen Thai, Alexander Pung
Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Unpolished Gem LitChart as a printable PDF.
Unpolished Gem PDF

Gold Symbol Timeline in Unpolished Gem

The timeline below shows where the symbol Gold appears in Unpolished Gem. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
...with what she calls “true cutting-edge Chinese chic.” The women are glamourous and wear dangly gold jewelry and colorful polyester suits, the “silk that requires less ironing.” Their apartment at the... (full context)
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Marriage Theme Icon
...Thai and Alice stand in line outside the bank to collect Huyen Thai’s “old people’s gold.” The others standing in line are sullen and unhappy, and Alice’s grandmother remarks on their... (full context)
Part 2
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
...up her kiln early in the morning and works late into the night. Kien pours gold into plaster molds and waits for it to harden, and then she polishes the jewelry... (full context)
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
...in Footscray and the surrounding areas. Occasionally, her customers cannot pay, or they owe her gold and don’t have it. She “relies only on their promises,” which she keeps written on... (full context)
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
...televisions to Kuan are businesspeople, but she is a “housewife with a handbag filled with gold wrapped in McDonald’s napkins.” (full context)
Part 3
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
...realizes that she must be feeling uneasy because she cannot find the glass jars of gold she had buried in the yard at the old house in Braybrook. She keeps the... (full context)
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Marriage Theme Icon
...them up right away. Kien and Que dig several holes, but they don’t find any gold. (full context)
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
“Kim” is both Vietnamese and Chinese for gold, Alice says, so the jewelry stores in Footscray are collectively called the Kims. One day... (full context)
Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
...Kims go bankrupt, and even though they know that they are closing, they still accept gold from Kien. The next week, when she comes to collect, their shops are boarded up... (full context)
Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
The chemicals Kien uses to process the gold have begun to affect her lungs and make her cough. The cough has failed to... (full context)
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Marriage Theme Icon
Kuan wants Kien to sell all her gold processing equipment and just stay home with the kids, but she can’t see herself doing... (full context)
Part 4
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Marriage Theme Icon
...to be part of a thousand-year-old culture, no one to tell me that I am gold not yellow.” (full context)
Epilogue
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Marriage Theme Icon
PUNG is written in large gold letters across the grave marker. “It’s so deep!” Alison says as she throws rice into... (full context)