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By 이다영

Published : July 1, 2011 - 20:39

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Korean allegory on democracy

Our Twisted Hero
By Yi Mun-yol
(Hyperion)



Among many Korean novels published in the 1980s, author Yi Mun-yol’s “Our Twisted Hero” has been considered the modern classic that dealt with the complex transition between fighting dictatorship and establishing democracy.

Telling a story of Han Byeong-tae, a 12-year-old boy who moves to a rural town from Seoul, the novel shows what it means to establish democracy and its true value.

When Byeong-tae is placed in his new classroom, he meets Eom Seok-dae, the class president who has more power than the teacher does. He excels in both academics and athletics, while acting as the most powerful figure in the class. No one objects to what he says, and even the teacher gives him the full authority to do whatever he wants -- as everyone is so well-behaved under Seok-dae’s supervision.

Byeong-tae soon realizes Seok-dae is forcing others to obey him. The bully has been making other students to write his tests, give him money and presents. He tries to fight against Seok-dae’s power, persuading other students to object to the bully. Yet no one agrees. As Seok-dae makes the other kids avoid him, Byeong-tae becomes alone and his grades go down. He eventually gives up, and decides to live under Seok-dae’s power.

Byeong-tae’s life gets a lot easier after he gives in to Seok-dae, as the class president recognizes him as his right hand man. But everything changes when a new teacher comes and finds out about Seok-dae’s wrongdoings. His power breaks, so does the order the classroom.

The novel indirectly criticizes those who do not actively object to dictatorship as unjust. Though the classroom gets democratized by the new powerful figure, because it hasn’t been established by the students themselves, their democracy loses its initial meaning and significance. It implies the message that democracy is not something that can be simply given, but something that needs to be obtained with much effort and work.

A deft, metaphorical allegory of Korea’s political situation in the 1980s, “Our Twisted Hero” is a great literary achievement which delved into the political themes that were critical in the formation of Korea’s modern democracy.

Born in Yeongyang County in North Gyeongsang Province in 1948, Yi studied Korean language education at the Seoul National University. He won numerous awards for his literary works, including the Ho-Am Prize in the Arts and Yi Sang Literary Award.

“Our Twisted Hero,” in particular, was made into a move in 1992 and translated into foreign languages. 

(dyc@heraldcorp.com)