Analysis of the Issue of Inequality in ‘Gloria’

Of central importance to he short story “Gloria” by Suchen Christine Lim is the theme of inequality. It is a theme prevalent in the story ‘Gloria’, where a domestic helper experiences inequality while working in Singapore. As Gloria, who is the helper employed, is from the Philippines, she is discriminated by her employer who is Singaporean. Inequality can be observed in various aspects- discrimination, prejudice, injustice and poverty- in ‘Gloria’. Gloria is written by Suchen Christine Lim who was born in Ipoh in Malaysia but later moved to Singapore to study, thus this story may have originated from her empathy with foreigners living Singapore or in her observations of the way foreigners, especially those who do ‘unwanted’ jobs are treated unequally by Singapore citizens. Written in 2007, this short story was intended to highlight the plight of foreigners who experience prejudice as they struggle to earn money in Singapore to send back to their home.

Poverty is a condition that Gloria’s background is plagued with, unintentionally having ten mouths to feed as a result of a relationship with an abusive boyfriend. People who are poorer value their resources more whereas those who are well-off are more wasteful. “We don’t eat leftovers. Throw them away unless you want to have them for lunch tomorrow,” highlights Gloria’s employer’s attitude towards leftover food while “Her brood would have rushed for the adobo” shows how Gloria’s children, having barely anything to eat, cherished any luxuries they were able to get. The author is trying to convey that society is wasteful and there are many others who would be grateful if they had the things we waste.

Suchen Lim uses the technique of symbolism and contrast in ‘Gloria’ to show inequality in terms of poverty between the livelihoods of those in Singapore and Philippines. The ‘Limampung Piso’ which is described as dirty and crumpled and is worth 50 peso, showing the quality of the spending power of her household back in Philippines which is poor and ‘crumpled’. On the other hand, Gloria describes the fifty-dollar note of the Singapore currency, which she was given weekly to spend on sundry goods, as clean and crisp, portraying the comfort of secure spending which Singaporean households enjoy, giving them a ‘clean’ lifestyle. The author uses this contrast to show the difference in livelihoods between the average family in Singapore and Philippines and through this highlight the poverty present in Philippines which is the homeland of Gloria.

Discrimination, which is the unjust judgement or treatment of a person due to differences such as race, gender and status, is prevalent in the neighbourhood that Gloria works in, from the unkind words of her employer to the seemingly mocking tone of the supermarket’s shopkeeper. This discrimination was largely due to Gloria’s background- she was a Filipino domestic helper in Singapore, a denomination of Singapore’s ‘diverse ethnic mix’ that is looked down upon and considered inferior by many due to their lower socio-economic status. Many Singaporeans in society used to discriminate against foreigners of other nationalities and backgrounds in the past as shown in the story by the cashier pretending to not understand what Gloria was querying about until Sarah stated that Gloria was her new maid. As Filipino women were stereotyped to be domestic helpers for Singaporean households, the uncle understood this stereotype and treated Gloria as one who was of a lower status. Unfortunately, this perception has not changed and can be still observed in Singaporean culture. One possible lesson the author wants to impart on us is to treat all people equally despite their differences as everyone is a human being and has their own strengths and weaknesses.

Prejudice, which is a preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience, is rooted in the mind of Gloria’s employer and is a strong influence in her interactions with Gloria. During Gloria’s self-interrogation, one of her thoughts was “…That she was too stupid to understand their Chink-chong code?” The phrase ‘Chink-chong code’ is a fictional word used by Gloria to describe the cryptic unwritten code of conduct and lifestyle that the Singaporeans lived by. Also, the word ‘stupid’ describes the condescending attitude of the people Gloria interacts with towards her due to their prejudiced, propaganda-poisoned minds. This rhetorical question was written to portray Gloria’s desperation in trying to understand and overcome the prejudices, intending to evoke sympathy from the reader and strike the hearts of those who have heavily prejudiced opinions of others to change their notion of workers of non-Singaporean origin.

Injustice, which is the unfair treatment of a person, is fused into the actions and words of Gloria’s ‘ma’am’. Throughout the passage Gloria was instructed only to answer “Yes, ma’am” or “No, ma’am” to her employer when asked a question. Furthermore, when Gloria, who had motherly instincts after raising ten children, was seen by her employer hugging Timmy, the youngest child in the household, she was quickly sent off to do other household chores in an attempt to banish the separation caused by the preferential hugging of the two younger children and not John, the oldest child who was the result of the father’s previous marriage.

Gloria experiences many different forms of inequality throughout the story and suffers as a result of the discrimination against her, prejudiced opinions and injustice faced as a result of her poverty-stricken background. Feminists and Marxists theorists would have an objection to the way Gloria is presented as a submissive creature without a brain of her own. Marxists would argue that the poorer working class would eventually realise the injustice faced and would break free from the control by the higher classes, which is in this case the household she is working in. Feminists would comment that Gloria should have had more control and power as a woman and not be subservient to Alex, in the same way how her female employer ran the household with authority in her husband’s absence. Arguably, Gloria’s employer’s attitude reflects the arrogant and apathetic attitude of the many Singaporeans who are well-off towards those who have a lower status than them, something that is still existent and deeply rooted in Singapore’s societal influences unfortunately, despite the eight year time lapse since this story’s publication. Gloria’s employer should have been more understanding and patient towards Gloria or at least not be as harsh in her tone, since impoverished, alienated workers are just as human as their well-off employers.