Must A Girl Marry?

Mrs. Fong used to be a colleague of Doris’ at a trading company in Central some forty years ago. Mrs. Fong has a daughter named Angela, who had to deal with an overweight problem since she was a child. Coming from a well-off family in Shanghai and being married to a middle-class businessman, Mrs. Fong’s sole purpose in life then was to groom Angela into a presentable young lady so that one day she could marry her off. In Mrs. Fong’s opinion, a girl must get married when she comes of age, even if she knows at the outset that she has to go through a divorce afterwards. The stigma of being called an old maid is a lot worse than that of being a divorcee.

In a desperate attempt to get Angela, then in her early teens, to trim her body weight, Mrs. Fong once splashed several thousand dollars on a pretty designer dress which was at least two sizes smaller than Angela’s and hung it up in Angela’s bedroom for her to look at everyday. The trick did work, and Angela grew into a fine figure by the time she was ready for high school. Mrs. Fong sent Angela to an exclusive convent school and later spent a fortune on her university education in Paris.

Doris had left the trading company after working with Mrs. Fong for several years to move to another job and she emigrated to Toronto a few years ago. They didn’t see each other until last summer, when, at Doris’ invitation, Mrs. Fong, Angela and her daughter Jennifer, who were all living in San Francisco, came to Toronto for a visit.

It was only then that Doris found out what had happened to Mrs. Fong and Angela in the last twenty years.

Around the time that Angela had her 29th birthday, Mrs. Fong’s son lost all her savings on gambling tables in Macau. She, who had always been trying hard to marry Angela off, was verging on obsession with trying to arrange a marriage for her. Angela, on the other hand, was docile enough, despite all her Western liberal education, to let her mother run her life. In Mrs. Fong’s view, being 29 years old and still unmarried was as repugnant as leprosy to healthy people in the old times. As urgent as the matter of marriage now got, Mrs. Fong thought that someone with a U.S. passport was as good as any prospect, no matter what his background was. Nothing could be worse than delaying the matter for any longer. In the end, through the introduction of some relatives in the States, Mrs. Fong finally coaxed Angela into marrying a Chinese restaurant cook in San Francisco. A year later, Angela had a baby girl that she named Jennifer.

It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to be able to tell the fortune of Angela after her marriage. The couple’s differences in background, outlook on life, interests and education level were simply irreconcilable. Since day one of her marriage, Angela had been drowning in a sea of misery. A few years later Angela got divorced. As Mrs. Fong was living under the same roof as Angela, the mother-daughter mutual blaming vitriol over the failed marriage became a daily ritual.

As the years wore on, Mrs. Fong developed Alzheimer’s disease, which deteriorated quickly. By the time she and Angela came to visit Doris in Toronto, Mrs. Fong’s sickness was already in a serious state.

The threesome were staying at Doris’ apartment. One night, in the early hours, Doris heard a loud and bitter squabble between Mrs. Fong and Angela. When Doris came out to the living room to see what was happening, she was utterly shocked to find Mrs. Fong standing in the doorway, naked and disoriented, and shouting abusive remarks at Angela, while Angela was shouting back obscenities and bitter accusations at her mother for meddling with her life and challenging her to jump out the window. It was obvious to Doris that Angela was suffering from some kind of hysteria. Finally, with strenuous efforts, Doris managed to calm the mother and daughter and got them both back to bed. All the while during the quarrel, Jennifer curled up helplessly in the sofa.

Doris was unable to go back to sleep. She was pondering why a fine and well educated girl like Angela could end up being such a bitter person. Why couldn’t she stand up to her mother and refuse to marry in the first place? She had lots of options open to her and should have had no problem leading a fruitful, happy and independent life. Why didn’t she pursue that route?

- End of Story -

Mrs. Fong single-handedly destroyed the happiness of her own daughter because of her dogma. Despite all her education, being a university graduate herself, she still couldn’t rely on her better judgment to see that marrying her daughter to the wrong guy could be a lot more devastating than letting her stay unmarried, and she succumbed to dogmatic traditional beliefs. Perhaps the thought of her daughter being called an old maid was too much for Mrs. Fong to bear, and she did not want her daughter to suffer the disparaging scourge of society, be it imaginary or real.

But Angela is the one that puzzles me. She had been immersed in a foreign culture and had received Westernized education. As an independent-thinking individual, Angela should have realized she was not bound by the values of her mother. What is the purpose of getting a good education if it cannot help the recipients to cultivate a logical mind and to reject all the dogmas of tradition and bigotry of society? Why would she be willing to follow her mother’s advice blindly and agree to marry just for the sake of conforming to an obnoxious social indoctrination, which should only victimize the unenlightened and uneducated?

On the other hand, should society’s ingrained bigotry towards unmarried women that is still prevalent in many Chinese communities be blamed for sad stories like this one?

The saddest aspect of the story is Jennifer, who was born into an unhappy life from day one. Who can she blame for it?