Unpolished Gem


Alice Pung

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Themes and Colors
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Marriage Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Unpolished Gem, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Culture and Assimilation

After escaping a state-sponsored genocide led by Pol Pot, Cambodia’s tyrannical leader, protagonist Alice Pung’s parents finally arrive in Victoria, Australia in 1980 after spending a year in a Thai refugee camp. Kuan Pung and his pregnant wife, Kien, are determined to raise their growing family away from the violence and political instability of Southeast Asia and instead claim their own piece of the great Australian Dream—the belief that through hard work and…

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Gender and Inequality

Throughout her memoir, Unpolished Gem, Alice Pung continually struggles with her status as a woman, both within her Chinese culture and her life in Australian society during the 1980s and ‘90s. Each time Alice’s grandmother, Huyen Thai, tells a story about the birth of one of their ancestors, the father always remains outside the delivery room door, waiting to find out if their newborn child possesses the “desired dangly bits,” and Alice’s modern…

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Family, Love, and Marriage

The value of family is well established within Alice Pung’s memoir, Unpolished Gem, and it drives the narrative throughout the book. Alice begins her story in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where her parents and her paternal grandmother and aunt walk across three countries on foot to escape a state-sponsored genocide. Kuan and Kien, Alice’s parents, are determined to start their own family away from the violence and destruction of Cambodia, and the…

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