Perspectives of Social Norms

Every culture has a set of standards and expectations of the individuals that live within it. However, within every society there are different perspectives and opinions depending on each individual’s point of view. There are many different situations and events that can alter one’s outlook of the society that he or she are living in. In the book, The Bridegroom, the author, Ha Jin, shows the reader different views of social norms in his writing. Ha Jin does so by making each story through the perspective of the narrative voice, which allows the reader to see society through the character’s eyes. “The Bridegroom,” “In The Kindergarten,” “After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town,” and “The Women From New York” are all stories within The Bridegroom that characters challenge social norms and are in the perspective of individuals who abide by social norms and are oppose to those who break social norms. Ha Jin uses the point of view of the good citizens in his story to show how the actions of other characters challenge society’s norms.

In the story, “The Bridegroom,” Ha Jin shows how marriage is a social formula that only exists between a male and a female; anything other than this formula is invalid. However, in this story Beina the niece of the narrator Mr. Chu, and her bridegroom Huang, does not fit the stereotypical couple. Beina is an unattractive woman who had limited marital options other than Huang. Her uncle was fearful that she would have never get married. Her uncle’s joy of his niece’s marriage ended quickly once he found out that Huang was homosexual. Through the uncle’s perspective and social norms this marriage was completely unacceptable. Huang and Benia’s marriage is to strictly cover up their socially unacceptable life styles, when Mr. Chu asks Huang about the marriage he replies, “If I didn’t marry her, would? The marriage helped us both, covering and saving her face for her”(p.98). Although they are both extremely happy with their marriage, Neither Mr. Chu nor the society that they live in accept their marriage as Valid. Even though Benia was happy, Mr. Chu was unsatisfied about their dysfunctional marriage because he was worried about his reputation on the line also. Mr. Chu was not concerned about his niece happiness; he was worried about how his reputation would be affected if someone from his family did not fit into society’s guidelines. Mr. Chu’s perspective narrates this story so the reader can see the outcasts of the society through someone else. Ha Jin does this so that he could manipulate all of societies point of view through ones characters perspective.

Ha Jin also uses perspective to illustrate social norms in the story “In The Kindergarten” author. However, this time it is through Shaona, a child’s perspective, to express that even as an innocent child, human nature its self can realize when something is not in accordance with social norms or morals. Shaona’s innocence is shown in the beginning of the story while her teacher is speaking to her doctor about the abortion she had gotten. Shaona is puzzled by what this can possibly be “What’s an abortion? Shaona asked herself. Is it something that holds a baby? What does it look like? Must be very expensive”(P.44). This shows how young and naive Shaona is. Even as an innocent minded child in kindergarten, she can still recognize when her and her classmates are being exploited to pick crops for their teacher. Once she realizes what was occurring she was outraged and sadden. Shen the children’s teacher, believes that it would be easy to manipulate the children because of the perspective that society has of children as having little knowledge, which is shown through Shaona’s innocence. Shaona realizes that the children were only being used for her teacher’s convenience and revolts against this by peeing in the bag of crops, after she feels like an accomplished grown up. Even Shaona’s revolt shows how immature she truly is but she still is able to realize that something outside acceptable norms was occurring. The perspective of a child shows us even with little knowledge about the world around her; she could still realize when she is being taken advantage of. The author chooses to put the story through the perspective of a child to confirm that even human nature can detect immoral actions.

Perspective continues to be Ha Jin’s method of showing the reader a society’s customs, the story “After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town,” demonstrates how much two cultures can vary. Cowboy Chicken is an American fast food restaurant that is built in Murji city in China. The perspectives of the Chinese employees at Cowboy Chicken show us through their confusion and misunderstanding of the protocol of their employer, how much the two cultures truly vary. Starting with the language barrier between themselves and their boss shows the barrier of culture between the employer and the culture that Cowboy Chicken has come from. They further show their confusion as to what their status as employees of the restaurant, they believe that they have equal authority as their boss considering themselves cofounders because they were the first employees of the restaurant. However they are not used to the capitalist ways that the restaurant works in, there is a hierarchy and they are at the bottom of the ladder. The employees were outraged because of one of the workers, Peter had a much higher salary, because he was fluent in both languages and was important to the success of the restaurant. The workers were not accustomed to this type of hierarchy and felt like they should all have equal salaries and decide to protest. Never realizing that in the capitalist way of business the people at the lower end jobs are easily replaceable. They were all fired except Peter because of his importance to the company. The workers perspective shows how hard it is to become accustomed to another culture when it does not fit into the social norms to the one that you live in.

The story “The Women From New York” is written through the perspective of the narrator. Which shows us how somebody can be alienated by their society for going outside of the social norms. An import aspect to the way that this story is written is that the narrator talks for the entire population as if they all had the same opinion about Chen Jinli the woman that is being alienated in the story for leaving her family behind and moving to New York. “We couldn’t understand why she was so determined in going abroad”(171). This does not allow the reader to have any other points of view about how the rest of society actually feels about Chen Jinli. The narrator speaks as if he knew the society’s overall view and opinion about Chen Jinli’s actions. This makes Chen seem like a complete outsider to the reader because all he or she reads is the negative things that the narrator has to say about Chen. Never allowing anyone to speak about the rationality behind Chen’s actions. The story would have been completely different if it was written through someone else’s perspective especially Chen Jinli’s.

The characters perspective through which society is seen through plays an important role in the interpretation of what is acceptable. Ha Jin shows this in the four different stories in the book The Bridegroom, as he gives certain characters the role of showing the reader the world through their eyes. The narrators opinion and out look about their society is the major influence of the story. Ha Jin chooses each narrators voice to be a certain character to get across the point that he wants to established. Each story would have been significantly altered if it were written through the perspective a different character.


Miller, Linda Lael. The Bridegroom. Don Mills, Ont.: HQN, 2009. Print.


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