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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Violent emotions : modern Japanese and Korean women’s writing, 1920-1980 Jeon, Miseli


This thesis aims to draw scholarly and general attention to two long-neglected areas in the fields of modern Korean and Japanese literature. The first is the way that individualism (an imported concept) was adopted and adapted by modern Korean and Japanese women writers from the 1920s to 1970s. The second is the role that the traditional sensibilities of urami (in Japan) and han (in Korea) play in modern women's writing. An additional purpose of the thesis is to introduce these traditional sensibilities to Western readers. The work of six writers will be highlighted, namely Hirabayashi Taiko, Kôno Taeko, and Ôba Minako in Japanese literature, and Kang Kyông-ae, O Chông-hûi, and Pak Wan-sô in Korean writing. The discussion is divided into the periods before and after the Second World War. Within each period, Korean and Japanese women writers are paired according to thematic similarities in their works. My discussion is based on the hypothesis that the Western ideal of individualism provided an outlet for Korean and Japanese women previously silenced and marginalized by the rigid precepts of the traditional neo-Confucian patriarchy in both Korea and Japan. I focus on how the concept of individualism affected these women writers, and also how they adapted the ideal of individualism to voice their feminist concerns. Urami [Chinese Characters] and han [Chinese Characters] share the same Chinese character that signifies potentially violent emotions of resentment and anger that accumulate in a person when exposed, for a long time, to ideological oppression, often paired with its physical equivalent. Despite this similarity, Koreans and Japanese have developed dissimilar ways of dealing with and expressing the emotions. These ways have further changed along with socio-political developments in the two countries. The evolution of urami and han has been influenced by industrialization and westernization, and by the neocolonial presence of the United States in the East Asian region. I apply a Western theory or a set of theories to the examination of each author, but remain aware of the difficulties that arise from such a procedure due to the cultural and historical differences between East Asia and the West (i.e., Europe and America). In so doing, I want to create a bridge between Asianists and Western readers, as well as permitting myself an exit from "innate" critical concepts that may themselves be implicated in Confucianism. The theories invoked are all deconstructionist, and are perhaps best summed up by Kathleen Marks's concept of "apotrope," that is to say a moving away from the trope, the latter designating any rigid systems that need to be dismantled in order to bring about reform. These theories are chosen so as to highlight not only the difference between urami and han, but also the similar themes and motifs that recur throughout the works by all six authors. My research opens up various new fields of research, including comparative studies of national-han, class-han, and women's han, and of male and female writers' interpretations of individualism.

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