Self-inflicted punishment novelist Chae Man-sik: The DONG-A ILBO

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“Transgressor of the Nation” written by Chae Man-sik, a novelist famous for his work “The Muddy Current”, is a confessional novel. It was written in the last years of his short life at 44, six years before his death. This is why a well-crafted novel reads more faithfully.

During the last years of the Japanese colonial era in 1943, the Japanese general government in Korea assembled around 200 Korean experts in various fields to give lectures condemning the United States and the United Kingdom and praising a war. The narrator of the novel, who is a novelist, was one of them. He had no choice but to follow the order because he knew it would ensure his safety. Even if he didn’t want to do it, it was his own choice. As Ham Seok-heon, who promoted the nonviolence movement known as the “seed idea (ssi-al sasang),” said, liberation came like a thief, and whatever be the reason, cooperation with the Japanese imperialists has constantly tormented the narrator. “The mud from cooperation with Japan that remained on my skin was like rubber boots stuck on my legs forever.”

What is ironic is the narrator’s attitude towards his nephew. Her 20-year-old nephew, who is in his final year of college, came to study with his uncle. Students at his school were on joint leave, protesting that they would not take lessons from a pro-Japanese teacher. The teacher failed the students, who did not change their last names, followed the students and beat them if they spoke Korean. Even after the liberation of Korea, he still disciplined students in Japanese. The nephew came to his uncle with the excuse of preparing for the entrance exam and graduation, even though he knew the student group action was the right thing to do. The narrator berated his nephew, saying, “A class president like you should step forward and take the initiative, not step back. What you have done is therefore an act of treason. You might as well die if you intend to do so.

But he also acted like his nephew. Therefore, scolding his nephew was both an education for him, which he cherished like his own son, and a repentance and rebuke for the narrator himself. He tortured himself, claiming to be a transgressor of the nation. Ironically, this self-torture was salvation for him. There is no writer in the history of Korean literature who has repented of the past so bitterly and deeply.

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