How Much of These Hills Is Gold

by C Pam Zhang

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Chapters 10–14 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on March 15, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1129

Chapter 10

One day, before the deaths of their parents, Lucy and Sam arrived with Ma and Ba at a tiny shack located on the outskirts of the valley. The mine boss gave them the choice of renting the shack or camping with hermits outside of town. Ba was tempted to pick a fight with the mine boss, but Ma quietly put her hand on his chest.

From outside the shack, Lucy observed how all their traveling had taken its toll on Ma’s looks. She then found a wooden sign in the dirt and realized that the shack had previously been a hencoop. Before the family moved in, Ma used a stick to draw the Chinese character for “tiger” on the dirt floor. It was her way of blessing their home.

Chapter 11

Lucy woke early in the morning and cooked four potatoes—one for each member of their family. She hoped that Ma would eat her share, as Ma was severely ill and hadn’t eaten properly for weeks. Ba then took Lucy down to the mines, where they spent the whole day working.

At night, Lucy arrived home and noticed that the potato she had left for Ma was gone. She felt overjoyed at this before realizing that it was Sam who had taken it. Sam begrudgingly apologized and promised to show Lucy what their Ma was actually eating. The two sisters spied on their mother, and Lucy discovered that Ma was eating mud.

Lucy informed her father of this alarming discovery. However, Ba was unperturbed and bid Lucy to go to sleep. Through eavesdropping on her parents, Lucy learned that Ba thought Ma’s eating habits were a sign she was pregnant—and that the child was male.

The following day, Ba took to the hills and dug up bones, ground them, and mixed them into water for Ma to drink.

Chapter 12

Ba and Lucy fell in line at the mine tunnels to claim their wages. When Ba complained that their wages were short, he was taunted and humiliated by the men.

As meat was the only type of food Ma wished to eat, Ba was forced to sell their mule and wagon for the butcher’s leavings. When Ma raised the point that she needed red meat for the baby to come out healthy, Ba assured her that he had a plan. After nights of working overtime, he proudly came home with a bulging pouch of coins. Overjoyed, Ma announced that Lucy and Sam would begin to attend school. She presented each of the sisters with a new dress the next morning.

At the schoolyard, a group of girls gathered around the two sisters to gawk and pull at their brocade dresses. Sam became impatient with them and slapped away their inquisitive hands. Taking offense, the girls assaulted both Sam and Lucy with their nails. During class, Teacher Leigh introduced himself to the two sisters. He was overjoyed to discover that Lucy knew how to read.

Over dinner, Ba expressed his disapproval of formal schooling. Ma, however, insisted that she wanted her children to have other opportunities besides mining. Soon after, Sam became involved in another altercation in the schoolyard, and Ba pulled Sam out of school.

Chapter 13

Disguised as a boy, Sam went to work with Ba in the mines. Lucy, accompanied by Ma, went to visit Teacher Leigh at his home. There, Ma was able to persuade the schoolmaster that Lucy was not a troublemaker like her sister.

On their way back, Ma and Lucy were disturbed to find dark clouds of smoke in the sky—the mines...

(This entire section contains 1129 words.)

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were burning. When they arrived home, however, Ba and Sam were in the middle of preparing dinner. Enraged, Ma asked Ba where he had been and accused him of lying to her. Left with no choice, Ba showed Ma a small nugget of gold and admitted he had been prospecting again—something Ma bad forbidden him to do years ago. He confided that he’d found an area rich in gold. Ma told him never to lie to her again.

Chapter 14

Every Sunday, Lucy went to Teacher Leigh’s house for extra lessons. Once, Teacher Leigh had a special guest over—Miss Lila, a teacher herself. Teacher Leigh wished to demonstrate that Lucy possessed moral fiber as well as smarts, so he posed her a simple moral conundrum. Lucy answered incorrectly and took to heart Teacher Leigh’s disappointment.

At home, Lucy waited until the stove was unattended, then proceeded to sprinkle in salt. Ma caught her in the act and asked her where she had found the salt. Lucy lied and told her that Teacher Leigh had given her some. In truth, she had stolen it from the schoolmaster’s saltcellar.


While the previous chapters only allude to and reminisce about Ma, chapter 10 marks Ma’s first appearance in the novel. This is because part 2 of the novel is set in a time when the family—Ma, Ba, Lucy, and Sam—was still complete.

Just as Lucy is the polar opposite of Sam, it is revealed that Ma is the polar opposite of Ba. With her poise and charm, Ma balances out Ba’s hotheaded nature.

It is also worth noting that the family has a deep connection with the land, as evidenced by Ma’s eating of mud and Ba’s preparation of a drink made of bone meal for her. Ba also forgives Ma for accidentally swallowing a small nugget of gold, as he believes the gold will make the baby strong. Both Ma and Ba believe that the land possesses power and history.

Part 2 of the novel is fraught with instances of racial discrimination. An example of this is when Ba collects his and Lucy’s wages and finds that girls are given only one-eighth of the regular wage. When he tries to reason with the mine boss, one of the workers calls him a “chink.” Another instance of racial discrimination is when the schoolgirls all gawk at and bully Lucy and Sam for looking so different from them. Finally, even Teacher Leigh looks at Lucy as an exotic item to be prized, studied, and written about in his book. This is how the novel asserts that the educated and so-called civilized class still holds regressive colonialist views.

The difference between Lucy’s and Teacher Leigh’s lived experiences is emphasized when Lucy gives the “wrong” answer to the moral conundrum Teacher Leigh poses, as the right answer to the question is to “ask for help.” Lucy explains to herself, however, that never in her life has she seen her family receive any kind of help. As a small act of retaliation against Teacher Leigh, she steals salt from his saltcellar.


Chapters 5–9 Summary and Analysis


Chapters 15–20 Summary and Analysis