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“The feeling that she had never really lived in this world caught her by surprise. It was a fact. She had never lived. Even as a child, as far back as she could remember, she had done nothing but endure.
Han Kang, The Vegetarian

In reading this novel, I immediately found the characterization of the women very interesting.  Both Yeong-hye and In-Hye seem as if, before the catalyst of Young-hye’s decision to stop eating meat, they were consumed with fulfilling the wishes of the men who in turn offered abuse and derision. This interpretation could give Yeong-hye’s desire to turn into a plant an entirely different connotation as plants are objects to be seen and moved at others will. My first instinct was to focus on the feminist aspects of this novel and how it could mirror the struggles women face in reality. In reading interviews and articles about Han Kang, I found that although the feminist themes in this novel have been highlighted by a lot of readers, her main concern seemed to be the increasingly inhumane nature of the world. She is quoted in an article as saying,

 I wanted to show the extreme core of a dog-eat-dog world.

After reading this, I began to wonder if this novel was supposed to be more of a critique on society as a whole rather than just Korean patriarchy. The novel does show abuse against women but Kang points out in several interviews that she attempted to show how abuse is instilled in society as a whole.

But I think if you interpret the novel just as a female voice it could be reducing this book. Yes, there is the father of this protagonist Yeong-Hye, who is a veteran of the Vietnam War. There is a very violent scene where he forces his daughter to eat meat by a physical act. This scene is overlapped when the medical doctors are force-feeding Yeong-Hye in the psychiatric hospital. At the risk of oversimplifying, you could say that they are personifying violence against the determination of Yeong-Hye.

– Han Kang, dw.com


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