Posted by Michael Fong
Abraham Cahan, "The Imported Bridegroom"
"The young woman gazed about her in perplexity. The Scotchman and his reading inspired her with respect, but the rest of the company and the tout ensemble of the scene impressed her as the haunt of queer individuals, meeting for some sinister purpose. It was anything but the world of intellectual and physical elegance into which she had dreamed to be introduced by marriage to a doctor. Any society of 'custom peddlers' was better dressed than these men, who appeared to her more like some of the grotesque and uncouth characters in Dickens's novels than an assemblage of educated people. For a moment even Shaya seemed a stranger and an enemy. Overcome by the stuffy, overheated atmosphere of the misshpaen apartment, she had a sense of having been kidnaped into the den of some terrible creatures, and felt like crying for help." (Abraham Cahan, The Imported Bridgroom)
After initially feeling repulsed towards her "bridgegroom" in which her father "won" in a bid in Pravly, Flora decides to exploit Shaya's intelligence in making him to become the husband of her dreams. Her plans seem to have succeeded until she fell to the realization that this wasn't what she wanted in the first place. Instead of a doctor with a hat and traveling in a buggy, Shaya transformed to a person totally warped up in his studies, and instead of classy academic discussions, he befriends a group of unsightly "scholars" in an attic.
It's safe to say that during the course of life there will be a time when people start regretting in getting what they thought they want. It may be a sleek leather couch with a four-figure price tag that feels no different from the old one, or it may be a furry dog who appears to be the cutest creature during the first few days but then seems like nothing but a pooping machine. Flora, sadly, hit the jackpot. She ends up with an "Americanized" husband that she neither recognizes nor wants.
Some may say that Flora brought this on herself, or some may say that Shaya is the unfortunate victim of American culture. Personally, I think it's a little bit of both. First of all, when one goes from one culture to another, one is bound to be affected in some way or the other. This can't be blamed on the "evilness" of a culture, it's just inevitable. Take me for example. A few months in America and now I'm already thinking that living here without a car is unnatural and inconvenient, something I would never have thought of back in Hong Kong. It's basically the same with Shaya. "Victimized" is an unfair and harsh term; "affected" would be much more appropriate. It's not the fault of Shaya, or "American culture", or anybody, it's just bound to happen.
As for whether Flora brought this on herself, I would partly agree with this statement. The question is, would Shaya had gone the same way even without the influence of Flora? Considering his curiousity and intellect, I say it is very possible. What Flora did accelerated, or rather, prodded Shaya into that direction. She's too far off in her romantic world that the first thing she thought of was to exploit Shaya's wit to "mold" him into the husband that she wants. This actually reminded me, in a bizarre way I guess, to Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein created "Frankenstein", but then becomes repulsed with what "it" has become, and how different it is from his imagination. One cannot forget the famous line in which Victor exclaims, "It's alive!" To compare Shaya with Frankenstein would be rather ridiculous, but I think what Flora experienced is quite similar to Victor; they both wanted something very badly, but then in the end that "thing" turned out to be not what they wanted in the first place. The elegant, spectacled husband who practices medicine never existed. It's only in the head of Flora and Dickens' novels.