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The Characterization of Seodaejwi in Seodongjijeon and its Significance

  • The Research of the Korean Classic
  • 2023, (62), pp.95-123
  • Publisher : The Research Of The Korean Classic
  • Research Area : Humanities > Korean Language and Literature > Korean Literature > Korean classic prose
  • Received : July 15, 2023
  • Accepted : August 11, 2023
  • Published : August 31, 2023

Haejin Lee 1

1서강대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This article focuses on Seodongjijeon, one of the allegorical novels of the lawsuit-type, to examine the distinctive features of the characterization of Seodaejwi(Seodongji), and to discuss the significance of this work. The term “significance” is used here to refer primarily to the achievements of Seodongjijeon as a literary diagnosis of late Joseon society, but it also encompasses the implications of Seodongjijeon for Korean society today. This is to actively reveal that Seodongjijeon is a Korean classic novel that is worth revisiting. Seodongjijeon is a novel that has a mutual influence with Seodaejujeon in that it deals with the struggle for food and lawsuit between the rat and the squirrel, but it differs from Seodaejujeon by subverting the good and evil characterization of the rich Seodaejwi and the poor squirrel and portraying Seodaejwi in a positive light. This article captures the specific content and significance of the positive portrayal of Seodaejwi in two aspects. One is the ‘birth of commoner who is good and rich’ and the ‘orientation to a harmonious society’ contained in it. Amidst the economic polarization of the late Joseon Dynasty and the resulting conflicts between members of society, Seodaejwi’s embrace of the squirrel, a good wealthy man, can be interpreted as an imagination for the restoration of a harmonious society. Another is the ‘commoner hero who awakens the judge’ and the ‘discovery of the responsibility of rulers’ contained therein. Seodaejwi tells the judge, who is the tiger, that the cause of the litigation is not the misbehavior of the common people, but the wrong politics of the ruler. This can be evaluated as an insight into the essential cause of social conflict in light of the contradictions between the rich and the poor at that time. Allegorical novels about animals have the limitation that it is difficult to show the complexity of human existence in a various way by using characteristics of animals. But at the same time, the very fact that they rely on animals has the advantage of showing the problems of human society more freely and sharply. Seodongjijeon is a novel that fully demonstrates this advantage. The significance of the figure of Seodaejwi, who is tolerant to his neighbor and bravely confronting his ruler, and the resonance it has for us today can also be found here.

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