Uprooting the Roots of Patriarchy: The Empty House by Kim Joo-Young

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.9 Autumn 2010
  • byJang Sungkyu
The Empty House

Kim Joo-young is famous for his superb depiction of tumultuous modern Korean history. He has reproduced Korea’s process of modernization through its indigenous language and meticulous integration of custom in works such as The Inn-Keeper (Gaek-ju). Such works are highly regarded for the reflection on individual modernization they inspire in the larger context of Korea’s high-speed modernization as compared to that of the West.

Kim Joo-young’s most recent novel, The Empty House, however, reflects a different style, delineating women’s desire sacrificed under a patriarchal system that the empty house stands for. Ojin, the main character, and her half sister Sujin, are both gamblers whose own desires have been abandoned because of their despotic father who obsesses with patriarchal authority, which is embodied by a foxglove tree. Their mothers’ desires are also discouraged. The foxglove tree rules over the empty house because the foxglove tree is a metaphor for the all-powerful patriarchal authority that establishes patriarchal order.

Can women living in 21st century Korean society fully realize their desire? Is the foxglove tree cut down in the novel no longer a factor in Korea today? One is hard pressed to find a positive answer to this question. In spite of the ostensible advancement of women’s rights, Korean society has found a way to maintain its patriarchal system through various inconspicuous inner workings. Thus, the empty house in the novel as a space that discourages women’s desire is not entirely fiction, but a metaphor for contemporary Korea. We must therefore truthfully confront the question: Can women realize their desires? Not until we uproot the foxglove trees within us.  

Author's Profile

Kim Joo-young is a novelist who began his career as a writer with the publication of “A Period of Dormancy” in 1971 in the monthly Literature magazine. His published novels are TradesmanThe Sound of ThunderA Skate Fish and GoodbyeMother; his short story collections are Winter Bird and In Search of a Bird. He is the recipient of the Korea Culture and Art Award and Yi Sang Literary Award as well as numerous other literary prizes. In 2007, he received the Eungwan Cultural medal.