[KS] Rags-to-riches in Korean literature?

Lauren W. Deutsch lwdeutsch at earthlink.net
Thu Dec 22 13:00:21 EST 2005

I couldn't help make the associaton of this string with the "Random Acts of Kindness" "movement" begun in the USA (Berkeley / San Francisco). The phenomenon was actually an inspiration of Anne Herbert, a writer for "The Whole Earth Review", coined the phrased "random kindness and senseless acts of beauty." Generally, these were surprise acts that people performed for others with no apparent reason for the act but the kindness in their hearts. In the USA one can still see bumper stickers with this phrase on them. The sentiment has socio-political (definitely not economic) currency within the middle, progressively liberal milieu. Perhaps I should have curbed my enthusiasm in contributing this.

In any event, grab hold on the turnning of the seasons and let fly all magic therein.

Lauren Deutsch 

-----Original Message-----
>From: Brother Anthony <ansonjae at sogang.ac.kr>
>Sent: Dec 21, 2005 6:03 PM
>To: Korean Studies Discussion List <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
>Subject: Re: [KS] Rags-to-riches in Korean literature?
>Well, I hope that widely-read experts will be able to provide many examples. I suppose that one obvious 
>tale is that of virtuous Heung-bo whose 'qualifying exam' is an act of kindness to a wounded swallow which 
>is rewarded by a seed that yields a number of giant gourds full of treasure which certainly provide him 
>with instant social mobility, and in some versions it is said that he gladly shares his wealth with his 
>mean and nasty brother Nol-bo after he has been severely punished, but I could not say if that last part is 
>traditional. Sim-cheong also experiences social mobility, from blind man's daughter to Empress, and her 
>father is the main beneficiary, together with all blind sentient beings restored to sight. Apart from this, 
>the thought that strikes me is how many Korean stories go in the opposite direction to the kind of 
>wish-fulfilling fairy-tale that the question proposes. In literary terms, I would think that tales centered 
>on the loss of good fortune are universally considered more interesting, at least since Boccaccio, Chaucer 
>and Shakespeare etc in Europe wrote about the "Fall of Princes" looking back to Boethius' 'Consolation of 
>In Korea, one novel I know well that deals with this theme, but not in the simplistic, boring "happy-end" 
>way suggested, is Yi Mun-yol's 'The Poet' (Si-in) that relates the true life-story of Kim Sakkat, whose 
>initial quest to recover lost social status is transformed into a kind of poetico-Taoist ascent toward 
>union with the cosmic order completely isolated from human society. I would think that among all the 
>fiction of modern Korea, where there is a lot about the way people born into high-class families end up 
>penniless, and many from poor farming families set off for the city to make their fortune and fail 
>miserably, there might also perhaps be some success stories. But the high esteem given to tales about Han 
>would suggest that the fall from fortune and survival in penniless, dignified misery might be the preferred 
>direction of literary mobility. I seem to recall that O Chong-Hui's 'The Old Well' might be of interest 
>here? The once wealthy grandfather of the little girl in 'Sonagi' is also on the way down, I believe?
>An interesting question would be whether, given the cheating associated with the Gwageo exam, and the fact 
>that it was only open to those of Yangban birth, anyone ever saw it as opening the way to social mobility?
>A happy Christmas, anyway
>Brother Anthony
>Sogang University, Seoul

Lauren W. Deutsch
835 S. Lucerne Blvd., #103 
Los Angeles CA 90005
Phone: 323 930-2587
e mail: lwdeutsch at earthlink.net

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