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Eating and Trauma in Han Kang’s The Vegetarian

  • Journal of Humanities
  • 2017, (64), pp.5-39
  • DOI : 10.31310/HUM.064.01
  • Publisher : Institute for Humanities
  • Research Area : Humanities > Other Humanities
  • Received : January 18, 2017
  • Accepted : January 26, 2017

CHO, YOON JUNG 1

1성균관대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Han Kang’s trilogy The Vegetarian, composed of “The Vegetarian,” “Mongolian Mark,” and “Flaming Trees,” has been examined by critics mostly from the eco-feminist perspective. This approach, however, can oversimplify various discourses in The Vegetarian by employing dichotomies such as: male vs. female, meat-eating vs. vegetarianism, and violence vs. non-violence. Yeong-hye has been previously interpreted as a victim of physical and ideological violence, who refuses to eat meat and tries to become a tree in protest against the oppressive masculine and patriarchal system. This paper, however, aims to present another aspect of the novel by adopting a trauma theory. The trauma theory shows that Yeong-hye can also be a perpetrator in the fundamental dimension of human beings who must take something from natural environments as it focuses on Yeong-hye’s trauma created from her guilt. In this respect, The Vegetarian fundamentally deals with human violence in general as well as ideological problems. This paper analyzes Yeong-hye’s trauma represented in The Vegetarian through Cathy Caruth’s trauma theory characterized by the five stages; shock, incomprehensibility, incubation period, repeated dreams or hallucinations, and awakening. This article also explains the meaning of and the reason for Yeong-hye’s becoming a tree in the coda by applying Sigmund Freud’s Death Drive theory. From this perspective, this study emphasizes that The Vegetarian shows not only Yeong-hye’s personal problems but the universal truth that all human beings are living at the sacrifice of other creatures. When readers share her trauma and take the joint responsibility, they will be able to understand the significance of her trauma.

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