2015 Sejong Writing Competition
Winning Entries :: Essays :: adult first place
first place, adult essay division
Kim Aeran’s “Run, Dad!” presents an unreliable narrator whose childlike naiveté masks the underlying complexities of the narrator’s relationship with her family. Through structure and imagery, the narrator highlights the subtext of self-denial and familial instability underneath the surface of this bildungsroman.
The structure of the work is unique, as the syntax becomes increasingly complex as the story progresses. The advantage of this technique is that it effectively allows Aeran to convey the essence of a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age progression, directly through the sentences visually seen and interpreted by the reader, giving a sense that the narrator herself is maturing throughout the course of the story. As a result, the initial segment of the story presents the narrator’s early childhood through terse syntax. In terms of the subtext, this progression is necessary for understanding the unreliable nature of the narrator. When the narrator first describes her father, she states that “he was always someplace else, or he was late, or he didn’t come at all,” implying as if her father was merely busy with work (227). However, as the story progresses, the narrator ages and her syntax becomes increasingly complex as her vocabulary and descriptive language noticeably widen. Yet interestingly, key developments in the narrator’s psychology occur with simple syntax, such as when she admits “I don’t have a father” after she describes a story told by her mother on the fate of her father (231). The significance of the simplicity is that it suggests that from a psychological standing point, the narrator is facing self-denial in relation to the situation with her father. She refuses to accept the burdens of not having a father and growing up with a burdened single mother and thus regresses to this child-like syntax in remembrance of the simpler times of childhood, untouched as the burdens of life unravel.
In conjunction to the syntax, the tone of the narrator retains a sense of childlike naiveté with humor as a means to reject the inherent instability of her family. Throughout the story, the narrator uses childish humor, from her comical description of her father running to the blunt humor of her mother. The importance of this humor is multifaceted. For the father, the humor serves as a humanizing force that allows for the narrator to construct a lasting, ever-present image of her unseen father in his “luminous pink shorts” running wildly (228). Even during the emotionally tense scene of the letter, the narrator adds humor to the story by describing her father making a “getaway” using a lawnmower, before succumbing to his death. It appears, therefore, that humor is one of the primary methods that allow for the narrator to humanize the father due to the absence of the father in her family. In contrast, humor is important in understanding the relationship between the narrator and the mother, as it serves as a unifying force that brings the two characters together. Almost every interaction between the mother and the narrator incorporates some form of humor, mostly from the blunt sense of humor from the mother. This humor serves as a means for the two characters to bond together, providing the illusion of an emotionally strong, healthy family dynamic. However, in scenes without this humor, that image falters. When the narrator reads the letter, she admits to censoring some of the information about her father, withholding information from her mother and lying to her. From this moment, the illusion of a strong family bond is cut as this sense of implied mistrust occurs, as the narrator does not trust her mother with the truth. Therefore, the humorous tone plays a major role in masking the subtext of the story.
Imagery plays a major part in highlighting the subtext of the story beneath the façade established by the narrator. The most recurring image is that of running. The concept of running is defined by the narrator as an exercise and a sport. However, most of all, she emphasizes that “running demands stamina” (230). Throughout the story, the primary character associated with “running” is the father, who the narrator has established in an artificial image as a runner. This has several meanings. The father could simply be running away from his problems, which the narrator believes to be his family. Adding to the concept of enduring, the concept of the father running also implies that the father is bearing great strain for the decisions he has made in his life, such as abandoning his family. Later on, the narrator suggests that the mother is also running as well, albeit via being a taxi driver. In that sense, it implies that the mother practices a form of escapism through her busy and dangerous job. Yet, when the narrator suggests that the mother became a taxi driver to spite the father in a humorous segment, she indirectly implies that the mother is also enduring, carrying some form of strain. In the end, however, the narrator is the one who is running. She is running from her own problems, trying to hide her anguish from her mother and presenting an image of her father in order to cope with this unstable family dynamic. She lies to her mother and thus is the only one to bear the truth. However, she continues to press on with such burdensome knowledge, running onwards to an unknown future. Thus, this imagery of running suggests that all of the characters run from their problems, failing to communicate and face these problems directly. By failing to communicate, the family dynamic, one built on trust and communication between its members, collapses.
The narrator for Kim Aeran’s “Run, Dad!” is unreliable, as she matures throughout the duration of the story, effectively masking the underlying subtext of family instability and denial. However, through imagery and structure, this façade cracks and reveals the subtext behind the childlike naiveté of the narrator and her true relationship with her unknown father and burdened mother.