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Culture and Its Effects on People’s Identity Essay

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Updated: May 1st, 2020

Introduction

Culture is often viewed as a factor affecting people’s identity, which is partially true. The key problem in locating the influence of culture on identity is that the latter incorporates both the inherent and the acquired characteristics. Herein the complexity of the chemistry between the two notions lies, as culture may only alter the character traits that are developed over the course of people’s interactions with the world and cannot possibly change the inherent ones, such as ethnicity, gender, or sexuality.

Though culture clearly affects the views on homosexuality in a rather obvious way, as it either spawns a vehement resistance to the ideas of tolerance or, on the contrary, encourages the celebration of differences among individuals, it cannot possibly change the elements of identity that are implanted into it intrinsically, such as sexual identity, which Ha Jin’s The Bridegroom is a graphic example of.

Analysis

One of the most obvious arguments concerning the impossibility of altering one’s identity with the help of cultural influence, the description of Bowen’s relationships with his wife deserves to be mentioned. Bowen’s loving wife and her attitude towards his sexual preferences stand in striking contrast to the violent rejection of the Chinese society, which clearly makes Baowen remorseful about his identity, yet he cannot do anything about it.

The social pressure, which Baowen experiences after the reveal of his identity and the subsequent victimization by the Chinese society, can also be considered a sociocultural factor that fails to change Baowen’s identity in the end. Speaking of which, the utter intolerance of homosexual people, which the society depicted in the novel displays, is horrifying in its naïve self-righteousness.

The blind fear of people that differ from the so-called “norm” twists people’s idea of social acceptance and justifies discrimination against people of an alternative sexual orientation as an attempt to protect the society from a certain malady: “It’s a social disease, like gambling, or prostitution, or syphilis” (Jin 518).

However, even the grievous experience of being shunned to the point where he became ostracized did not make Baowen alter his sexual identity. Even the imminent punishment that awaits him as the society discovers his identity does not make Baowen reconsider his preferences, which means that he has no possible power over it: “I – I liked a man in the club, a lot. If he’d asked me, I might’ve agreed” (Jin 519).

It is quite remarkable that Jin also provides a rather detailed and embarrassingly obvious explanation of the reasons for the discrimination to occur: “Homosexuality originated in Western capitalism and bourgeois lifestyle. According to our law, it’s dealt with as a kind of hooliganism” (Jin 518). The fact that sexual profiling occurred on the basis of political and cultural enmity between China and the Western world adds to the line of arguments concerning the inconsistency between culture and identity.

While the latter has a very strong foundation to be based on and is mainly dependent on the specifics of one’s personality, as well as the inherited traits, the former is quite transient and is affected greatly by the economic and political relationships between the neighboring states. The intolerance of homosexual people in China on the specified time slot was, therefore, influenced heavily by the tense relationships between China and West, where homosexuality was being acknowledged as an inherent characteristic.

Finally, the fact that culture cannot possibly affect one’s identity can be proven by the fact that even Baowen’s wish to change as he is being tortured does not have the slightest effect on his sexuality: “Let me say this again: there is no cure for your son-in-law, old Cheng. It’s not a disease; it’s just a sexual preference; it may be congenital, like being left-handed. Got it?” (Jin 527).

The given element of the narration is, in fact, heart-wrenching to the point where it becomes disturbing. Brown spells out his desire to change his identity; therefore, he wishes to accept the cultural standards. Nevertheless, the desire to change, which overpowers him as he feels increasingly guilty, does not change anything.

As he is given the so-called “electric bath,” he assumes that he is being treated the proper way and, though being in great pain, demands further “treatment” so that he could be accepted in the society once again: “’ No, give me more!’ Baowen said resolutely without opening his eyes, his face twisted” (Jin 524). However, even this plea for change does not have any palpable effect.

Counterargument

It should be noted, though, that the effects of culture on identity are admittedly large. Indeed, claiming that culture has nothing to do with identity whatsoever would be wrong – the two, in fact, are closely related to each other on a range of levels. For instance, the process of assimilation, which may occur once a person is introduced to an entirely different environment, is a graphic example of the way in which culture and identity are intermingled.

Specifically, the way in which culture shapes one’s attitude towards specific phenomena and the perception of specific standards, ethical and moral ones notwithstanding, is a clear-cut manifestation of culture-shaping identity. For example, a certain attitude towards homosexuality within a society is an obvious effect of culture on people’s identity.

In Jin’s novel, for instance, discrimination of gay people is not the result of people’s intrinsic hatred towards homosexuals, but the result of the culturally accepted morals altering people’s standpoint. The latter, in its turn, makes a major part of identity; therefore, the two notions may be viewed as related.

Rebuttal

As convincing as the argument concerning the links between culture and identity may be, one still must admit that the acquired features, which an impressive part of one’s identity consists of, coexist with the inherent ones, the latter including also sexual identity. In other words, identity is a very complex phenomenon that incorporates both acquired and inherent features, sexual orientation belonging to the ones that cannot possibly be altered under the pressure of any circumstances.

Conclusion

The effects of culture on people’s identity may vary based on whether these are inherent or acquired elements of one’s identity that are under the impact of the environment. While the latter, such as the attitudes towards sexuality and societal norms and morals, may be shaped, the sexual orientation itself cannot possibly be altered, as it is not defined by the standards within the society in question.

Neither oppression, nor persuasion may possibly alter one’s sexual identity, and Bowen’s case is a graphic example of that. Cultural tolerance is the only possible way of dealing with differences between the identities of individuals, whereas violence and aggression towards something or someone that seems different is never the answer.

Works Cited

Jin, Ha. “The Bridegroom.” The Bridegroom. New York, NY: Random House, 2000. 515–529. Print.

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