The Story of a Dwarf Family, the Urban Poor: The Dwarf by Cho Se-Hui
- onNovember 2, 2014
- Vol.2 Winter 2008
- byShin Soojeong
- The Dwarf
Tr. Bruce Fulton 2006224pp.
It was in December of 1975 when the short story “Knifeblade,” the first in the collection titled The Dwarf, was published. The mythology surrounding this collection of short stories reached its peak the following year, with successive publications of “The Möbius Strip,” “Space Travel,” and “A Dwarf Launches a Little Ball.”
The collection consists of 12 short stories, of which the shortest comes to no more than some 40 pages in a 200 manuscript page collection. Even longer versions of the collection come to no more than 250 manuscript pages, and can be considered as the launch into an official career by Cho Se-Hui, who had remained silent for over a decade since his debut in 1965. Through his words, the history of Korean literature was finally able to integrate Korea with the shadowy aspects of its society, a result of the developmental dictatorship in the 1970s.
The dwarf in this book is a physically handicapped man, 117 centimeters tall (about 4 feet), and weighing 32 kilograms (about 70 pounds). He is not just handicapped, however. His family, consisting of his wife and three children, represents the working class of Korean society in the 1970s, who at the time, were oppressed and marginalized in the structure of production, consumption, and distribution. In contrast to this group was the giant, a group of financial conglomerates represented by the Eungang Group and the capitalists with whom they work. Other groups do exist, such as the lower middle class and conscientious intellectuals, represented by Sin-ae and Ji-seop. However, the collection more acutely focuses mostly on the conflict between laborers and capitalists, and the haves and the have-nots. They exist in different worlds, living lives that can never be reconciled. They exploit, and are exploited, which is the method of their conflicting existence. Would reconciliation and coexistence of the two groups ever be possible? This is the very theme of The Dwarf. The realization of love, based on freedom and equality, is the link joining the short stories in the collection.
The series of short sentences, referred to as staccato sentences, characteristic of the author, is the greatest contributing factor in transforming this distinct social consciousness into a unique aesthetic. Cho opened up a new history in the form of Korean novels by renouncing the standard of realism, experimenting with sentences, and by being bold enough to draw a fantasy-based reality based on fables into the narration of his novels. He brought about a turning point in the history of Korean novels, which allowed for the yoking of realism and anti-realism, and the unity of social and aesthetic aspects in literature. As long as the questions proposed by The Dwarf remain current, its meaning will not be diminished. And therein lies the power that enabled this book, first printed in 1978, like The Square by Choi In-hun, to go through over 240 printings up to the present.