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The Literature in the Aging Society—Focused on Novels about Dementia

엄미옥 1

1숙명여대

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This article aims to reveal in dementia novels by analyzing the novels on dementia that have been published between the 1970s until today. Through this, I would like to explain how the perception of dementia has changed according to the passage of time, what significance the narrative of Alzheimer's conveys in novels, and what implications it has for the literature of the aging era. In the past, the obliteration of memory, formerly called 'senility', was a subject of sociocultural care. However, the name has been changed to 'Alzheimer's disease' starting from the 1990s and is now considered to be a disease that must be treated medically. This change in perception is represented in novels: In Park Wanseo's novel, the terms 'senility' and 'dotage', the way a daughter-in-law called her mother-in-law, demonstrated the perceptions of that time; and in Park Bumshin's You, the recognition was changed and it came to be considered as a disease that could be prevented to some extent and needed to be actively treated. The literary works on dementia have a unique narrative style in which the daughter-in-law, daughter, or wife who takes care of a patient with dementia serves as the main narrator and focal point. This is because the person with dementia cannot be the subject of a narrative due to memory atrophy and a loss of cognitive function. The events described by the protagonist who observes the disease or the records taken by the narrator consist of a description of the patient's symptoms, the pain and conflict the caretaker suffers, and the inner perspective of the person that changes while she cares for the patient. In this narrative, the history of the patient's life is composed. Meanwhile, the person taking care of the elderly with senile dementia realizes in the process of caring that there remains an 'island of memory' attached to the happiest moment of the patient's life. The anchored world leads the caregiver to reflection and introspection, which demonstrates the paradox of the obliteration that a memory illness possesses. On the other hand, Kim Kyungwook stressed in his novel The Gate of Heaven that the caring issue in the age of family dissolution and aging is no longer a private matter but a subject that needs social and institutional intervention. This literature of dementia, where the multifaceted aspect of the life of the elderly and social phenomena are condensed, proposes a new literary potential as a genre of care (nursing) novel in the increasingly aging society.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.

This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.