2015 Sejong Writing Competition
Winning Entries :: Essays :: adult third place
third place, adult essay division
"Looking Funny": Exaggeration as Emotional Expression in "Run, Dad!"
Emotions are an abstraction and problematic to define, thus making them equally difficult to express. The young protagonist of “Run, Dad!” faces the challenging task of expressing her feelings, specifically toward her absent father. Because she has very little information about her father, she adds her own exaggerated (and often ridiculous) imagery to characterize him. Although the use of absurd details makes the narrator of “Run, Dad!” less reliable, she purposely uses caricature to express her conflicted feelings toward her father.
The narrator establishes her unreliable point of view at the start of the story, not only by providing details that she could not possibly know (i.e., her emotional expression as a fetus), but by directly admitting that she possesses very little factual information about her father. She initially perceives him as a pathetic and altogether terrible person, but also acknowledges that she has large gaps in her understanding of him: “I don’t really know what sort of man he was. A few facts are all he left behind…the facts give us the reality of a man… If they don’t, well, I don’t really know him” (229). The narrator’s admission clearly indicates that she simply cannot provide an accurate portrayal of her father. Therefore, she fills in the blanks with her own imagination, often with ridiculous results.
The narrator’s motivation for using exaggeration as her particular descriptive device comes from her personal view of how love is articulated. She describes a moment early in her infancy, when her mother laughs at the narrator’s failed attempt to show affection. At this moment, the narrator concludes that love is “not so much two people laughing together as one looking funny to the other” (228). By finding humor in the narrator’s scrunched-up face, the narrator’s mother demonstrates the closest thing to motherly love (which is generally absent from their relationship, as evidenced by her vulgarity and coarseness). With this as her only example of how love should be, the narrator, too, uses a humorous portrayal of her father to express her love for him.
By reducing her father to absurdity, the narrator addresses the combination of love and resentment she feels toward him. With his fluorescent running shorts and ridiculous movement pattern, she reiterates that Dad “cuts a comical figure” (228). By caricaturing her father as an over-zealous runner, the narrator is also expressing the love she feels toward him. However, affection does not erase her feelings of anger and abandonment. The runner motif therefore also serves as an expression of her less positive feelings toward Dad. By having her father run all over the world, she creates and maintains distance between them as a way to cope with his departure. She comes to this realization while reflecting on his death: “It occurred to me that I kept imagining him because I could not forgive him. Maybe the reason I kept him running in my mind was that I was afraid I would charge at him and kill him the moment he stopped” (238). Because the narrator still has unresolved issues with her father, she knows that he cannot reenter her life without the threat of releasing twenty years worth of anger. Thus, the image of Dad as a runner serves a dual purpose – to convey both her affection and rage toward him.
The ultimate alteration of the narrator’s image of Dad mirrors the change in her feelings toward him after his death. By further embellishing the image of her father as a runner, symbolically moves one step closer to accepting her father’s absence: Suddenly I realized that all this time he had been running in the blazing sun…isn’t it strange that I never thought to give him sunglasses? I’d forgotten that even the most rubbishy man in the world gets sick like everyone else, likes the things that everyone else likes…They suited him really well. He’ll run better now, I thought. (239)
The “blazing sun” represents her harsh judgment of her father. After realizing that Dad was very much a normal, flawed human, the narrator bequeaths him with sunglasses – a means of protection against the formerly prevalent hatred she felt. Even though the narrator keeps the image of her dad running - meaning that she is still a long way from absolute forgiveness - she shows that she can express her love for him more openly. Though he is still portrayed as a caricature, Runner Dad now has a new token of his daughter’s changing feelings toward him.
By embellishing her descriptions of her father, the narrator technically makes herself unreliable; through these details, however, the audience sees a very honest expression of emotion. The narrator uses the recurring image of her father as a runner to convey both her love and deep-seated resentment. Though she initially wants to keep him running to maintain the distance between them, the narrator eventually replaces some of her anger with sympathy and understanding. In spite of Dad’s death, the journey continues – for Dad, around the world and for the narrator, toward acceptance.