Life challenges people, no matter how old and strong they are. Difficult situations come unexpectedly and often the way out is not obvious and easy. Sometimes there is no one to give a peace of advice, and one should help himself or herself without friendly help. The collection of stories “The Bridegroom” by a Chinese author Ha Jin depicts various life situations and ordinary people of different ages and occupation who have to face them. The author describes China in 1980’s in a small provincial city Muji. That was the time of instability, when the country was on the crossroad between communism and capitalism. Promises of prosperity for ordinary people turned out to be new forms of governmental pressure. Former values did not fit changing needs, yet they were not substituted by new ones. As a consequence, people were confused and vulnerable. Ha Jin focuses on average citizen with simple needs of happiness and peace. All main characters of novels have something in common – they are lost in their home land and have to deal with corruptive government and settled cultural habits. Baowen from “The Bridegroom”, Shaona from “In the Kindergarden” and two peasants from “A Bad Joke” get into troubles because of being ignorant and innocent – they did not fit the new reality, and the new oppressing system tries to change them according to its norms.
Baowen is a handsome man who works in a factory. He is adored by women but chooses to marry Biena, whose appearance is far from being attractive. The reason for his weird choice is rather intimate. Baowen founds himself to be a homosexual, and proposes Biena a marriage of convenience – she will not remain an old maid as well as her husband’s sexual preferences will remain a secret. A young man is ignorant of his nature and tries to cure homosexuality with lizards, toads and scorpions. He is scared as the society treats such people with hostility. Homosexuality considers as a disease that can be cured with electric baths. Baowen is left alone with his fears and doubts. He has no one to turn to for explanation and compassion. His nature is not an illness but his state of mind, thou the society’s ignorance and cultural norms make it unnatural. Thus, he becomes a freak in his country. He lives in surroundings that oppress his individuality and at the same time he cannot suppress his nature. Being ignorant and innocent, he sincerely wants to be treated and at the same time he has sex with a male nurse in the sanatorium. Baowen is a lost sole in a hostile and unyielding society.
Shaona is a girl that lives in a kindergarten. There are too many questions around her but she has no one to ask an explanation or a piece of advice. When she hears her teacher Shen speaking of abortion, she cannot understand how a baby can weaken a woman as she believes to come out of a pumpkin patch. The next day she and the other children are told to pick purslanes. Their teacher promises that they will get them for supper as a delicious dish. However, Shaona sees how Shen gives gathered plants to Uncle Chang and later rides home with a bag full of purslanes. The girl cannot understand why that happens, why children do not have what they were promised and why the teacher takes away the plants. Besides, she has personal conflict with boy Dabin. She saw that he started the fight with a girl and said that to the teacher. To please him, Sahona gives him some peanuts, but he threatens to revenge, unless she gives him another presents. The next day Shaona rebels the injustice – when Shen and children are trying to catch a rabbit, the girl urinates in a bag with purslanes. After this she feels exited and satisfied. She founds an inner strength to rebel the unfairness. Shaona is a little innocent child that has to live in complex conditions and learn the life herself.
Two peasants from “A Bad Joke” get into trouble with the police as their carefree witticism was interpreted as disrespect for government. These peasants can be treated as one character as they do not have personal names and referred as a tall one and a short one. They are obviously poor and harmless. Their joke was not aimed to express contempt or rebel. A mere amusement and sheer disappointment because of a failed purchase made the two peasants to do a clever and rather fair statement about the prices policy. However, their words taken out of context were considered as an abuse against the chairman. During the investigation it turns out that the villagers are ignorant of the current political situation and think that the chairman is Deng Xiaoping. Moreover, the peasants should not be punished for expressing their personal opinion. The fact that everyone liked the joke confirms that is was just. Again, like Baowen and Shaona, these peasants are in hostile surroundings of total control and their personalities are suppressed by the government.
Ha Jin’s characters serve as representatives of the average Chinese people in 1980’s. Ignorant and oppressed they were left alone with their problems. Homosexual Baowen, rebellious Shaona and ignorant peasants are very sincere and vulnerable. They have troubles because they cannot adapt to changes. Their destiny remains unknown. Baowen is set to prison, Shaona is left in the kindergarten and the story with the two peasants has an open final. Although the main characters of the stories are of different age and position, they have something in common – they live in an unfriendly world and lack knowledge to cope the troubles they get into.