“The Grey Snowman” and “The Road to Sampo”

Published 18 Sep 2017

In The Grey Snowman and The Road to Sampo, the authors are speaking to themes that are much more important than just in the context of their individual stories. Instead, the authors are doing their best to characterize life in Korea as a whole, noting the meaning of many key things. Through their representations and their works, the authors indicate the meaning of “home” in their Korean context. They discuss the way in which individuals feel about their homes and how the idea of “home” is an important one in Korean society. Even though the characters struggle significantly to reconcile their feelings on “home” with their newfound lives, an everlasting idea of home still persists throughout the work. This is something that is most assuredly worth studying, and it is one of the primary reasons why the two works in question are such powerful literary representations of Korean culture at large. Through unique and interesting storytelling, these things are brought to light in different ways in these two differing works. The characters are experiencing things that are unique and distinct, but some of the feelings that they hold are the same. For these characters, “home” is a less than positive influence on an otherwise meaningful life, even if they do not wish that it was that way.

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The idea of home is something that is very important in the two works. Though many works throughout history have represented home as a positive place and a positive idea, that is not what one can see in The Grey Snowman. Instead, home is a place that comes with somewhat limiting connotations, and it is a place that the author does not long to be. The author does not waste much time in showing her feelings on her home, documenting some of her experiences after she had gone out on her own. She writes, “I was tormented, in those days, by a fear that someone from my hometown would come and take me back. That would have meant giving up my tiny room, and so I never felt free (Yun, p. 62). The language in this passage is important, as it shows the very real disdain that the author had for her situation at home. She uses the term torment to show that the idea of going back home was something inherently negative. Additionally, the author paints a picture of home as a place that is worse than any struggle she was then facing. Though life was not perfect, as she was living in a small apartment and she was forced to take on a host of jobs, that struggle was much better than the idea of being dragged back into her old world. That world was limiting and it offered no opportunities. It was a drab, cold place where she could accomplish nothing and where she would be expected to give up her goals and dreams. This is the representation of home that this particular author brings to the table, and it is one that goes against what most literary works represent about home.

In The Road to Sampo, Youngdal is running from his hometown and looking for something new. This is yet another author that does not waste time in showing the reader another picture of what home meant in Korean society. There is an encounter very early on when Youngdal meets up with a man who is heading back to his home. The author makes it very clear that the two men are on opposite paths, with Youngdal moving toward a new goal and a new life. He is one the run, so to speak, and does not look back toward his home. This is similar to the picture of home that is presented in The Grey Snowman. Home is something that the characters are anxious to leave behind. It is not a typical story of individuals growing up in a town, then taking what they have learned to a new area to make something of themselves. Instead, these stories paint home as a place that is wicked, and the people who stay in those places are not making the most of what they are given. There is an active effort to move away from home and to start a new, invigorated life somewhere else. The authors represent home as a somewhat different world from the larger cities of opportunity around Korea, and this is what the reader has to take from the early opinions on home in that society.

In Korea, people saw their homes constantly changing.. In its purest form, the modernization movement was about some cities getting bigger and offering more opportunities for people to take advantage of. Not only were opportunities for professional advancement present with modernization, but other opportunities persisted, as well. For instance, individuals could choose to eat and shop at different places, since modern cities had those kinds of choices. This created quite a distinction to behold, as folks were forced to view their home for what it was. In Korea, a situation existed where some cities were left behind, and both of these stories speak to that fact. These individuals were forced to abandon home because home could not keep up with the changing dynamic of the Korean nation. The movement was not wide reaching and it did not sweep up everyone and bring them along for the ride. Instead, it was somewhat exclusionary, taking some cities and rendering others mostly useless. This can be seen in some of the early dialogue of The Road to Sampo. Youngdal is speaking about how a certain city does not have all of the modern conveniences that he has seen in other areas. The author writes, ‘This place is too small’, objected Chung. ‘There don’t seem to be any eating places or stores here’ (Seok-young, p. 193). Though opportunities existed and people were able to charge after them, Korea seems to be a place that is splintered by the modern movement. There are haves and have-nots, with a distinct line between those groups. Because of the technologies and trappings available to some, the country has lost some of its unity, and it is most certainly not uniform in any way. This is why the characters in both works seem resentful of home, if not downright ashamed of where the have come from. As The Grey Snowman indicated, home was something that could jump up at any time and drag a person back down. Because many people had homes that were left behind, they were forced to part with the identity of those homes, as well.

In The Grey Snowman, there is a representation of something that made cities less friendly and less inviting. The cities suddenly became cold, and the author has a difficult time finding her place where she is. This creates a stark contrast between home and where the author finds herself as the story moves along. Though she makes it very clear that she does not want any part of her home in the sense of its ability to offer opportunity, she still seems to long for some aspects of home. She is pursuing opportunity and doing her best to make a better life, it is hard to argue that she is having a good time. This is the fickle reality of moving away from home. As people forge ahead and attempt to move into the modern world, some of the old, intimate portions of life at home are lost. Cities were impersonal, and the author found life to be something without a ton of purpose. She notes her experiences, wandering the streets without truly having a place to go. This is what the city into, as it was no longer a living, breathing entity. Instead, it was a business center full of cold streets and even colder buildings. Though she does not seek everything that goes along with life at home, she is certainly reaching out for a few of the old ways. The friendliness and familiarity are the primary things missing from her new found life, and that is something that seems to cause a great deal of interpersonal trouble for the author.

Another theme that is discussed in these works is how home can change over time. Though The Grey Snowman represents a world that will not change, The Road to Sampo talks about how home can modify itself into something new over time. Chung is unaware of what his home has become, and he has falsely asserted that his home could not be the home to any industry. In his conversation with the old man toward the end of the work, he reacts with surprise when he is told that Sampo is now a place where bulldozers are operated and people have a chance to make something of themselves. What this speaks to is the idea that home can burn an image in a person’s head. When most people think about home, they tend to believe in an image of what it might have been like when they were children. Even though times change, people change, and cities change, Chung has no awareness of what his own hometown has become since the last time he was there. Additionally, this moment shows a situation where Chung longs for his hometown to stay the way it was. He does not want some of the pure parts of Sampo to be overrun by the new industry that has moved into the area. This is similar to what the reader sees in the first work, as the author of that work longs for the simplicity of home in a different way. In both of these works, one can see that the “idea” of home is something that is often on the minds of characters, even if they would rather have the opportunities that exist elsewhere. This represents a major theme in Korean history and Korean culture. The struggle to maintain a new life, while balancing the need for some of the things that home can provide is one that many individuals faced as the country moved into the modern era.

Home is many things and it presents a highly personalized theme. People view home in their own context, and most individuals long for parts of home. Still, these two works show home as something that is not exactly positive. It can be limiting, and it can jump up and pull people down. Though home has some positives, the majority of emotions regarding home are patently negative, which creates quite a conundrum for the authors of these works. The lack of opportunity that often accompanies home makes individuals brave the difficult, modern world, which can often be a cold and unforgiving place.

Works Cited

  • Yun, Ch’oe. The Grey Snowman.
  • Hwang, Seok-young. The Road to Sampo.
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