Yi Injik's Tears of Blood (1906) is the pioneering piece of “new fiction” (sin sosŏl). As many works of this male-authored genre revolve around women's conflicts regarding marriage, family, and home life, literary critics often condescendingly disregard them as domestic fiction, an ahistorical rendition of premodern tales and therefore undeserving of critical scrutiny, as opposed to a handful of politically sensitive and worthy examples of social fiction. In this line of thinking, Tears of Blood has been classified as social fiction that openly depicts urgent political issues. This essay claims, however, that Tears of Blood sets the dominant paradigm of the genre as early twentieth-century domestic fiction. The women-centered narratives of new fiction show the uneasy ways in which male Korean intellectuals coped with the question of how to imagine women as “citizens” of the nation in place of the unabashed gender hierarchy of Chosŏn Korea; how to perceive women as belonging not to a class-divided family but to a nation where each one is supposedly given an equal standing to one another. In “Tears of Blood,” the homogenizing project conflictingly intersects with the ideology of “civilization and enlightenment” and the colonialist gaze of the author, a well-known pro-Japanese collaborator. The contradictory interplay between nationalism, colonialism, and the idea of “civilization and enlightenment” splits Tears of Blood into two women's stories: one focusing on a young Korean girl's growth into the emblem of the civilized future of the nation, the other about her old-fashioned mother whose symbolic position vacillates between the nation's venerable past and the “uncivilized” who are predisposed to invasion by foreign powers. The split not only places the female characters in a position to conflict with each other but also shows the recurring themes of domestic women's conflicts in new fiction.
Research Article|February 01 2014
Yoon Sun Yang; Enlightened Daughter, Benighted Mother: Yi Injik's Tears of Blood and Early Twentieth-Century Korean Domestic Fiction. positions 1 February 2014; 22 (1): 103–130. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-2383867
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