Thousand Pieces of Gold, copyright 1981, was written by Ruthanne McCunn. We challenged this book because of language, actions and situations in it.
We requested in our challenge that members of the ALA and NEA not sit on this Thousand Pieces of Gold review committee. This was refused in the letter sent to us calling this meeting. We protest this decision. Official positions and policies of organizations are important to consider in order to achieve non-discriminatory procedures and due process. A member of the KKK, NRA or NRL would not be allowed to sit on the jury of many cases solely due to their organization’s stated and known positions about certain subjects, notwithstanding any statements about how the individuals would follow the laws or regulations. We ask that the documentation for this Thousand Pieces of Gold review committee include a notation as to who are members of the ALA or NEA.
The language in the book includes: Shit, bastard, bitch, and whore.
The main character as a young girl thinks about how she might be killed by her father so there will be enough food for the family, because they “can always have another” child. She hears the villagers saying that she is pretty and is the “right age to fetch a good price.” When drowning a bird, so it would not suffer, she thinks that this will also be her fate.
Bandits attack her village and we read a description of how they kill a villager: “…head severed in a single blow. The head had rolled….splattering blood…..pierced it with a pole which he stabbed into the ground….mouth had hung open…matted with blood, swayed fitfully back and forth...” Eventually a bandit buys her from her dad in a forced sale. The bandit calls her a whore and talks about selling her to a brothel or giving her to his men as a “common wife.” The bandit talks about how he sold his own children and gave his wife to his “men to use.” He says his wife only “lasted a week” but that Lalu might “last a month.”
Lalu thinks about what he means and remembers being awakened in the night and seeing “her father’s larger bulk heave, panting, against her mother, who, flattened against the bed, moaned and issued the short, sharp cry of a wounded bird.” She thought her dad was hurting her mom and beat her fists against him. But her mom said she was too young to understand. She thinks about dogs “locked together” and how the female had “quivered terribly” but didn’t die. She wonders if the bandit’s wife died because there were 50 men, not just one. She wonders how the women in the brothels survive, since they “coupled with more than that.”
She decides to entice the bandit to make him be kind to her and when he fondles her breasts she forces her body to remain pressed against him. However he just “twisted her nipple cruelly.”
One of the bandits threw himself on top of her. “How about a taste of swans meat?” he says. She “..felt a strange hardness swell and press against her thigh.” She tells him to get off and he says, “And lose the chance to eat a virgin?” Some of the other bandits tell him to get off also because their number is before his. The bandit on her wants to draw lots again but the others don’t want to lose their low number and tell him he is, “ afraid by the time you get her she’ll be like a mushy old sweet potato, too much for someone like you with testicles the sized of a gnat.”
The bandits do not rape her because the chief wants to make sure she is not “damaged.” When the men try to force themselves on her, one of the chiefs henchman holds “them at bay, reminding them that their futures depended on.. the price she fetched.” The bandits sell her to the brothel owner of the House of Heavenly Pleasure after the owner is assured she is a virgin. The brothel owner sells her to a “special buyer” who takes her and other girls to America. She learns that some of the girls are headed for prostitution and some might get to be brides. She hears how they were tricked into signing papers promising the use of their bodies in prostitution in return for their ship passage. She hears her new owner say about men, “So long as the woman satisfies that muscle below their belt, they don’t care about anything else.”
They are told not to cry because it will make them ugly and they will end up only “charging 25 cents for a look, 50 cents for a feel, and 75 cents for action.” They are told they will have to strip for auction because if a “man has to pay several thousand dollars for a woman, he likes to see exactly what he is buying.”
Standing naked on the auction block she is poked, prodded and pinched and eventually sold and brought to a mining camp. Her new master is a Chinese man who runs a saloon. She wonders if she will have to “lie with the [the men], one woman among 1,600 men?”
She is told a slave does not choose her own name and now she will be known as Polly. He tells her the “first taste will be mine.” Later that day “his mouth gaped wide, drooling spittle onto [her], whom he clasped tightly... nails scraping her flesh raw” he rapes her. “He blamed (her) for his lack of arousal… he thought he was in bed with a man.. Finally, his loins stirred weakly and he mounted her….in the stain of blood that proved his victory…”
She is mad at all the white men but a Chinese man asks why she would call her master “who used you like a whore” a man and but think the white man who has helped her a demon.
The man she “allowed herself to love... did not seem to care that he had to share her with another”, her master. Eventually this man wins her in a poker game and gives her freedom. She lives with him the rest of the book.
We don’t feel that the material in Thousand Pieces of Gold is necessary or appropriate for MS. About two months ago we met with the principal of Irving MS where we submitted this challenge to discuss the “original rationale for inclusion of the material” and “purpose and use” per FCPS Regulation 3009.5. We were told that this book “hadn’t been checked out for years” and it was “approved through Central Approval” and “central recommendations from the Lacy Center.” We were told they were “not sure of the rationale because [it’s] so old.” We were told they “had not done inventory in years” and “maybe [it will] be weeded.” We were told “Our decision to remove is to wait until we hear from Central.”
We still do not know the rationale for inclusion of this material, nor the purpose and use of this material although we were supposed to have been told this over two months ago in our meeting at Irving MS.
There was a choice - a choice to purchase this book and place it in a few MS libraries. Most middle schools chose not to have this book. Why did just a few schools choose differently? What makes them different? Our challenge to Thousand Pieces of Gold requested that the names of the people who made the choice to be identified.
Parents don’t have a choice that their child picks a book off their school library shelf and reads it at school or at home. We, and the public have a right to know who is making these choices with our tax dollars for us. As stated in our challenge Virginia Law says the entire scheme of instruction in the public schools shall emphasize moral education through lessons given by teachers and imparted by appropriate reading selections.
If this book has not been checked out in years and is only in a few schools it is a waste of time and resources to defend this material.
Whatever decision it is you make, the FCPS and the School Board will eventually have to let us and the public know what they think is acceptable or not when it comes to MS reading material.
If middle school children are going to read shit, bastard, bitch and whore, the public has a right to know that FCPS and their elected officials support this. If middle school children are going to read about nipple twisting and a sex slave that loses her virginity being raped by her owner, the public has a right to know that FCPS and their elected officials support this. If middle school children are going to read about men drawing numbers in a lottery to determine the order that they will get to rape a teenage girl in, the public has a right to know that FCPS and their elected officials support this. If middle school children are going to read about someone being insulted that their testicles are too small for them to get sexual satisfaction in the “mushy” vagina of a teenage girl, because she has been gang raped by dozens of men, the public has a right to know that FCPS and their elected officials support this.
We don’t know what parents, if any, were involved in choosing this book for MS. We don’t know who chose it and why. Parents don’t have a choice if this book is in their child’s school library. The book is available to their child, like every other book in the library, when their children are there.
There are many books that have not been chosen for some or any FCPS libraries. FCPS has made a choice to place this book in some MS libraries. We don’t think this was a wise choice.
If Thousand Pieces of Gold is not available to students at school, it will still be available to them and their parents in public bookstores and the public library - the same as the millions of other books not “chosen” for our schools.
7 January 2003