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“A Thousand Pieces of Gold”-And The Racism and Sexism Encountered by Lalu Nathoy By: Bhurawala, Huma MW 2:315, AAS 201OL Prof. Steven Ropp
Polly Nathoy: A life of struggle and endurance • Sexism in Rural China: • Polly was born into a poor farmer’s family ingrained with the notion that men were inherently superior to women, for instance we can see in the beginning that her brother A Cai goes to school, whereas she must stay home and take care of the house.
Symbolism Obscured • Lalu’s feet are bound so that when she marries she may have small feet that a) inhibit movement, b) embody sexual innuendo and c) are a sign of beauty and submission to her husband. However, her mom must remove the bindings… so that she can help her father in the farm.
Irony and Tragedy Enfold • Lalu’s dad calls her his “thousand pieces of gold”, yet when bandits raid their village he must accept fate and sell his daughter to the bandits in order for their family to live in peace… • Lalu is sold to the bandits for two bags of seeds- a stark contrast to her father’s accolade that she was his thousand pieces of gold.
A Failed Plan • Lalu tries to escape the sexual harassment of her captors, but ends up as a pawn to their manipulations. Her failed plan to escape is all the more tragic for she “cannot escape her fate”. • She is then sold to a brothel where she finds out she will be going to America, again she has no control over her own destiny as it slips out of her hand like so many grains of sand in an hourglass.
Auctioned Off • Lalu then boards a ship and is auctioned off like chattel, stark naked in Chinatown, San, Francisco. She is then transported as “property” with a kind man named Jim, whom she falls in love with. Though their love is mutual, Jim cannot free Lalu and “make her, her own woman” as promised, because her owner Hong King won’t allow Lalu to be sold for her own freedom!
A Lack of Dignity • As Lalu or rather Polly- as this is the new name given to her-, toils day after day for her “master” Hong King, she contemplates murder as the only way to rid herself from forced servitude. However, Jim’s (who is now deceased) old friend Charlie Bemis comes to Polly’s rescue by winning her in a poker game. Though Polly, is now free from Hong King she feels like a trophy moving from one shelf to another.
A New Beginning? • Charles promises to help her gain her freedom both financially and socially, but the only way to do this was through betting or buying her out. Polly is grateful for Charlie’s help, but doesn’t understand how a land of freedom and opportunity can allow Asian women to become slaves or concubines and restrict Asians from buying land. Yet, Polly restores her sense of self-worth with the help of Charles and is finally able to fulfill her dreams.
Finis • Lalu’s story is one of courage, persistence, and incomparable dignity- as she scratches out a name for herself in the Western Frontier and leaves an indelible mark upon the Eastern societal mores she left behind. Her fiery determination serves as an inspiration for us all, for she was and is a beacon of hope for all who perceive only darkness around them, she is our thousand pieces of gold.