The Lives of the Violent: South Gate by Han Changhoon

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.14 Winter 2011
  • byJung Yeo-ul
South Gate

The biggest tragedy of violence is that the victims come to resemble the perpetrators in their ugliness. Those who have been hit want to hit back. Those who are hurt want to be avenged. Those who are cursed want to curse. Violence is inherited and communicated in this manner.

South Gate covers three kinds of violence in Korean society that have been passed down from previous generations: family, school, and state violence. The family violence that the protagonist undergoes is a product of patriarchy. The author paints a sad portrait of a family that must move in perfect consort with the father’s will. And as soon as the main character has escaped from the violence at home, he is exposed to a form of institutionalized violence at school. This violence is not limited to the corporal punishment visited upon students. A system which instills the belief that either someone is number one or he is nothing is itself a form of spiritual violence that holds sway over students throughout their lives.

State violence, the third kind, is more severe than the other two forms combined. The Gwangju Uprising in 1980 left us with the tragic understanding of how brutal state violence can be. Those who dared defy the state lived under constant threat: one day they could die, without anyone knowing. Many people participating in the democratic uprising faced wrongful imprisonment and all kinds of threats to their lives, including torture. The violence was so lethal that people’s memory of it threatened even love among neighbors and the camaraderie of friends. Fear of the state caused people to betray their neighbors and colleagues. Submission to the state caused individuals to relinquish their humanity. It is this awful essence of state violence that South Gate brings alive for the reader.