2014 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Senior first place
Power and Young Men Across Cultures

Our Twisted Hero by Yi Munyol offers a piercing critique of both Korean society and government throughout the past decades. Yi Munyol allegorically criticizes structural injustice in society in multiple forms, specifically showing tyranny of the individual, tyranny of the minority, and even more frightening, tyranny of the majority. Yi Munyol in choosing school children as the vehicles for these comparisons to society at large strikes readers because while it is normal to think of school as a microcosm of society as a whole, the brutal but calculated behavior displayed by children reveals aspects of human use of power that some adults would rather believe don’t exist.

Many of the themes and criticism of society in Our Twisted Hero parallel those in a book from another side of the world, The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. Golding also uses school children as a magnifying glass for different facets of society and power. Even though Golding has some Western flair noticeably absent from Our Twisted Hero, such as a Christ-like figure’s presence, the books both similarly present their allegories with specific characters representing parallel parts of society and similar characters representing different uses – especially misuses – of power. The comparison can only go so far, however, because the books are considering different spectra of human behavior. Similarly though, for their societies, both authors use young children, which throws into relief the innate nature of the behavior displayed in both books.

In both works, the central theme deals with the abuse and mishandling of power in a group in the absence of a strong centralized leader. A major difference between the two is the starting point for the micro-societies created by the children; while Golding abruptly takes away any leadership, Yi Munyol starts with an established regime of Sok-dae when Pyong-tae arrives. Golding simply shows that the power vacuum tends to coalesce around a charismatic and powerful leader, while Yi Munyol thrust Pyong-tae into that situation already having taken place around Sok-dae. Nevertheless, the message is the same; in times of confusion, whether it be Korea affected by the Korean War or Britain torn apart by World War II, it is easy for a powerful individual to seize power. Like Sok-dae builds his power upon the loyalty of the class as he is larger than them, Jack uses the authority of the hunters to rally his tribe around him. Whether the killing of a pig by Jack for the tribe, the display of clout when Sok-dae allows Pyong-tae to gain more popularity, or the military victory of a leader in a war, any kind of success in a confused society breeds opportunity for an individual or elite group to seize and abuse power, as both Golding and Yi Munyol recognize.

Tyranny of the majority is also a major criticism of society by both works. After coming out of the Korean War, the first attempts at a democratic government, like Pyong-tae’s attempts to work with the teacher to remove Sok-dae from power, did not fare well. The minority and voice of reason, namely Pyong-tae, saw the majority, the class, abuse their power just as much as had been previously done by an individual, Sok-dae. Similarly, despite Piggy’s warnings, Jack’s group of boys, newly frenzied on account their power, slay Simon. Both authors comment on how, when given the opportunity and shift in power, the previously abused majority will take and use their authority in a similar manner.

The comparison of the themes beyond plot and character of the two works, however, should only go as far as the study of power as exposed through a group of children. Lord of the Flies is heavily focused on the spectrum of savagery versus civilization; right before the climax of the book when Simon is brutally killed, Simon talks to the Lord of the Flies, who explains that the “Beast isn’t something you could hunt and kill,” because it is really a part of human nature (Golding, 87) . Much more poignant for the Korean audience is Our Twisted Hero’s criticism of the way society is already structured from a spectrum of totalitarianism to democracy, and the apathy of the general public for the abuses of both forms of power. When Pyong-tae attempts to get the class to list the offences of Sok-dae and instead they turn on him, Yi Munyol comments on the condemnation of revolutionaries in already established society, rather than forming a new one as does Golding.

As many authors have before, these authors show the less savory side of human nature, especially as humans relate to other humans. Even more striking is that the exercise and use of power and influence and society shown through young boys. Young boys are the ones who hang in the balance with base instinct and the ever so slight tug of a newly forming moral compass, demonstrating the conflict between order and chaos, justice and wrongdoing, and power for one’s self and the greater good. These conflicts truly do play out in every society, across borders and within schoolhouses, making the two works clear windows into the base of human interactions.