There is a series of ceremonies, called the rites of passage, that people have each time when they undergo important changes of status. Among them, marriage has been regarded as the most important event in one’s life and hence has been called ‘Illyunjidaesa’, meaning an important event of life. During the Chosun Dynasty, only married people, regardless of sex, were recognized as sound social members. Therefore, Yangbans, the rulling-class people of the Chosun Dynasty, used marriage as the institution to strengthen the solidarity between two families. Owing to various reasons such as economic environment, however, some people could not get married at appropriate age. Because of the social perception regarding the unmarried as ‘defective’ persons, to get married, even if late, was one of the most important goals of life.
In particular, ‘old maids’ were treated as if they did not do their share even in family life. Because they were regarded as the objects of relief in those days, the practical desire of old maids may have been the achievement of marriage. During the late Chosun Dynasty, the issue of old maids became a social concern and was mentioned for national policy, forming so-called ‘old-maid discourse’. In the gasa <Nocheonyeoga>, meaning a song of an old maid, a noble old maid who could not get married because of poverty laments her misfortune in the first-person view. In the present article, a review on <Nocheonyeoga> is presented with a focus on women’s voice contained in the work to inspect the social meaning of the images of old maids.
In the work, a testimony of an old maid consistently lamenting her misfortune ends up with her resignation stemming from the realization of her circumstance, without any reversals. The narrator expresses her feelings on her circumstance as an old maid, even blaming her parents who are not interested in her marriage. Recognizing difficult household finances in spite of noble family, however, the blaming tone toward her parents is mollified a little. The despaired settlement of the work demonstrates the helplessness of women of the time who could not make their independent living. The hidden side of the cultural system of the Chosun Dynasty, during which a strong patriarchal system was being operated, can be read from the images of old maids.