Nowadays, it is becoming increasingly clear to more and more people throughout the world that the ongoing process of Globalization doesn’t only have strictly economic, but also psychological connotations. That is, the earlier mentioned process affects the manner in which individuals perceive the surrounding reality and their place in it.
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This, of course, causes many conservatively minded people to criticize Globalization, on account of its assumed capacity to destroy cultural traditions, because the process in question implies the inevitability of unification and standardization.
However, while referring to Globalization in negative terms, it is often being the case that these people unintentionally expose the conceptual fallaciousness of their own line of argumentation, regarding the Globalization’s counter beneficiary effects. In my paper, I will explore the validity of the above statement at length, in regards to the short stories The Bridegroom by Ha Jin and A Family Supper by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Formally speaking, there is nothing new about the issue of a psychological incompatibility between the representatives of older and younger generations, tackled in Jin’s story. After all, it represents a well-known fact that, as compared to what it happened to be the case with young people, their parents tend to be much more conservative.
Nevertheless, there can be only a few doubts that there are clearly defined discursive overtones (concerned with Globalization) to The Bridegroom, which in turn imply that there was so much more to the earlier mentioned incompatibility between the character of Old Cheng, on the one hand, and the characters of Beina and Baowen, on the other.
The validity of this suggestion will become self-evident, once we analyze what were the innate motivations for Old Cheng to pursue with trying to ensure his adopted daughter’s happiness in the way he did. After all, it is specifically setting Beina up with a husband, so that she could get pregnant and to give birth to children, which Old Cheng considered his foremost duty, as a father: “When she (Beina) turned twenty-three and still had no boyfriend, I began to worry.
Where could I find her a husband? Timid and quiet, she didn’t know how to get close to a man. I was afraid she’d become an old maid” (Jin 472). Given the fact that the story’s plot unravels in China and the fact that Old Cheng appears to have been a rather traditionally minded individual, we can well assume that initially, he used to be a rural-dweller.
He came to the city in search of a better-paid employment and eventually ended up becoming an industrial worker – just as it happened to be the case with millions and millions of people like the character in question, throughout the course of the eighties and nineties. This simply could not be otherwise, because it is namely the abundance of peasants in pre-industrial China, which made it possible for this country to be set on the path of industrialization, in the first place.
As sociologists are being well aware of, it this specific category of citizens that traditionally served as the industrialization’s actual ‘fuel’, not only in China but in the rest of currently industrialized nations, such as Britain, the U.S. or Russia, for example. This provides us with a clue, as to why Old Cheng was strongly driven to marry off Beina at any cost.
This is because, despite having relocated to the big city, Old Cheng never ceased being a peasant, in the psychological sense of this word – his persistence in trying to make sure that Beina gets married serves as the best proof to the earlier suggestion’s legitimacy. The reason for this is apparent – people who reside in rural areas, have no other option but to affiliate themselves with agricultural pursuits, as the mean of ensuring their physical survival.
Hence, these people’s tendency to indulge in ‘baby-making’, whenever the opportunity presents itself – the more there are children in a particular rural-based family, the better are the chances for this family to enjoy a comparative well-being, as even young children can be successfully turned into agricultural helpers.
In big cities, however, there is no dialectically predetermined necessity for people to remain strongly committed to ‘baby-making’, as the realities of an urban living effectively eliminate preconditions for individuals to apply a particularly strong effort into trying to survive physically. Because the term ‘Globalization’ is essentially synonymous with the notion of ‘urbanization’, we can well suggest that Old Cheng’s failure in trying to help Beina was thoroughly objective.
Even though, as the story’s context implies, this character resided in the big city for a long time, he nevertheless could never adjust to the realities of an urban living. In its turn, this suggests that there is indeed a good reason to think of this person’s existential stance, exposed throughout the story’s entirety, as having been potentially counterproductive. Apparently, Old Cheng was simply incapable of expanding his intellectual horizons – hence, his consistently exhibited perceptual arrogance.
The discursive legitimacy of this suggestion can also be illustrated in relation to the theme of homosexuality, prominently featured in The Bridegroom. For example, there is a memorable scene in the story, where Old Cheng refuses to drink milk, poured into the mug for him by Baowen: “He (Baowen) poured a large mug of mailed milk for both of us, since there was only one mug in the room.
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I didn’t touch the milk, unsure whether homosexuality was communicable” (486). This, of course, exposes Old Cheng as having been not an overly bright individual. However, it is not something that could be held against him, but rather the fact that Old Cheng’s attitude towards homosexuality did not change, even after he had a plenty of chances to learn that this ‘disease’ cannot be considered a disease per se, but rather a genetically defined mental condition, that poses no threat to the society, whatsoever.
After all, doctor Mai did explain to Old Cheng what homosexuality is all about: “Let me say this again: There’s no cure for your son-in-law, Old Cheng, It’s (homosexuality) not a disease. It’s just a sexual preference; it may be congenital, like being left-handed. Got it?” (487).
However, even after having learned this, Old Cheng could not help thinking of homosexuality as something morally wicked, because this practice did not make much of a sense in his mind of a primitively thinking peasant: “If homosexuality is a natural thing, then why are there men and women? Why can’t two men gel married and make a baby?” (488).
At the same time, however, Old Cheng remained thoroughly comfortable, while bribing governmental officials with two cigarettes-cartons. Apparently, it never occurred to him to think of bribery as an utterly immoral act. Partially, this explains why, despite corrupted Chinese governmental officials continuing to be sentenced to death, on the account of their bribe-taking practices, the majority of ordinary Chinese citizens (especially those who have been brought in the country) believes that there is nothing wrong about these practices.
In fact, in the Chinese language, the very notion of bribe (guanxi) implies its full appropriateness: “(Guanxi) is the establishment of a connection between two independent individuals to enable a bilateral flow of personal or social transactions” (Yeung and Tung 55). The reason for this is simple – China only recently became an industrialized nation, which is why the majority of people in this country continue to think ‘rurally’ – hence their tendency to give/accept bribes.
After all, in order to be able to survive in the rural areas, peasants need to rely on each other, which in turn naturally predispose them towards trying to win each other’s favor. Therefore, there is indeed a good rationale in believing that the intergenerational conflict, described in The Bridegroom, has been brought about by the process of Globalization (urbanization), which exposes people’s continual endowment with ‘traditional values’, as such that reflects their intellectual inflexibility and consequently – their reduced ability to act as the society’s productive members.
What has been said in the paper’s previous sub-chapter, also applies within the context of discussing the themes and motifs, contained in the story Family Supper by Kazuo Ishiguro. This is because, just as it happened to be the case with the earlier discussed story, the roots of the intergenerational conflict in Ishiguro’s story have to do with the fact that, as time goes on, the Globalization-related socio-cultural discourse changes the way in which people perceive the surrounding social reality.
In this respect, the narrator’s mentioning of the fact that his mother died, due to having been poisoned by a Fugu fish, has a strongly defined symbolic significance. This is because, by participating in the ceremony of eating this fish, individuals are expected to prove their courageousness. Apparently, they want to be considered as such that does not fear death too much.
Simultaneously, however, it reflects these individuals’ lessened ability to appreciate their lives, due to having been ‘trained’ to think of their own and other people’s physical existence; as such that does not necessarily represent the highest value of all. The earlier mentioned ‘training’ usually takes place in rural families with many children. If any of these children dies, his or her parents and siblings do not perceive it in terms of an unbearable loss, as there is still a plenty more left.
Given the fact that prior to WW2, Japan was an essentially agrarian country, the existential attitude, on the part of the narrator’s parents (reflected by their braveness in the face of death), makes a perfectly good sense. After all, the story context implies that they belonged to the ‘war generation’, which means that have been naturally prompted not to put their lives in a particularly high regard.
Therefore, there is nothing too odd about the narrator father’s tendency to glorify death, reflected by his favorable remarks, in regards to its former business-partner Watanabe, who after having sustained a bankruptcy, killed himself and its family: “After the firm’s collapse, Watanabe killed himself. He didn’t wish to live with the disgrace… A fine man. A man of principle” (Ishiguro 1).
Apparently, due to the specifics of its early upbringing and its wartime memories, the narrator’s father did in fact share the illusion that there could be a ‘higher’ purpose to one’s violent death. This also explains his subtly expressed belief that war is the only effective key to solving seeming unsolvable problems and that one’s willingness to sacrifice its life ‘glorifies’ the concerned individual: “During the war I spent some time on a ship… But my ambition was always the air force… If your ship was struck by the enemy, all you could do was struggle in the water hoping for a lifeline.
But in an airplane – well – there was always the final weapon” (3). The narrator and his sister Kikuko, on the hand, could not have possibly shared their father’s sentiment, in this respect. After all, as the story’s context suggests, both of them had traveled outside of Japan, without having experienced any emotional discomfort, whatsoever.
In fact, the story’s narrator appears to have resided in the U.S. for a considerable amount of time, which in turn enlightened him that, due to the realities of the late 20th century’s living, the notion of ethno-patriotism can no longer be considered discursively legitimate. This simply could not be otherwise, because while growing up in economically booming post-war Japan, the narrator and his sister were dialectically predetermined to affiliate themselves with the values of Globalization, as the ‘Earth-flattening’ process.
As Ohmae noted: “The global economy ignores barriers… The traditional centralized nation-state is another cause of friction. It is ill-equipped to play a meaningful role on the global stage” (5). Therefore, even though there can be only a few doubts, as to the fact that both: the narrator and his sister never ceased to respect their father, they nevertheless could never relate to him, in the emotional sense of this word.
Apparently, despite the particulars of their ethnic affiliation, they were essentially cosmopolites – thoroughly alienated from what the notion of ‘traditional values’ stands for. This is the reason why Kikuko would never skip a chance lightning up a cigarette, once her father was not around.
Nevertheless, unlike what it happened to be the case with the character of Old Cheng in Jin’s story, Ishiguro’s father proved himself intellectually honest enough to consider the possibility that the ‘old ways’, he cherished so much, might have been deprived of a rationale all along. This is exactly the reason why, contrary to the readers’ subliminal expectation, the fish that the narrator’s father prepared for supper, did not turn out to be a poisonous Fugu.
There is a memorable conversation that takes place between the narrator and his father at the end of the story, in which the latter does admit that Watanabe’s suicide could never be justified: “You think what he (Watanabe) did – it was a mistake?’. ‘Why, of course. Do you see it otherwise?’” (4). By saying this, the narrator’s father subtly recognized the sheer wrongness of those virtues, and he used to pursue while young.
What has been argued earlier in this paper, suggests that Globalization does not only affect the interrelationships between the representatives of different generations. Instead, it changes the very essence of how young and older people indulge in the socialization with each other. The reason for this is quite apparent – due to the Globalization’s discursive implications, older people can no longer be considered as such that have a plenty of wisdom about them.
Yet, this is not because, while addressing different challenges, throughout the course of their lives, the representatives of the older generations had failed at accumulating wisdom, but because what these people know about how the world turns around, does not contain the realization of the fact that humanity is standing on the threshold of a rather dramatic transformation.
After all, it is namely during the course of the last few decades (associated with the rise of the Internet) that the pace of the humanity’s socio-cultural and technological progress had attained a clearly defined exponential momentum. What is means is that there are indeed good reasons to believe that, when it comes to identifying the extent of the ethical appropriateness/inappropriateness of currently predominant socio-philosophical discourses, young people will be much more likely to succeed in it, as compared to what would have been the case with their parents or grandparents.
Apparently, the very fact that they were born in a time when Globalization started to undermine the soundness of a number of different classical notions/assumptions, in regards to what accounts for the humanity’s actual destiny, in general, and the purpose of one’s life, in particular, makes them cognitively attuned with what would be the ways of the ‘borderless brave world’.
I believe that the earlier deployed line of argumentation, as to the discursive significance of the intergenerational conflict, described in the stories by Jin and Ishiguro, fully correlates with the paper’s initial thesis.
Ishiguro, Kazuo 1982, A Family Supper. RTF file.
Jin, Ha 2000, The Bridegroom. Web.
Ohmae, Kenichi. Next Global Stage: Challenges and Opportunities in Our Borderless World. Upper Saddle River: Wharton School Publishing, 2005. Print.
Yeung, Irene and Rosalie Tung. “Achieving Business Success in Confucian Societies: The Importance of Guanxi (Connections).” Organizational Dynamics 25.2 (1996): 54-65. Print.