Lost Names

Influence of Class and Gender Differences on Korean Characters

Richard Kims refused to treat the novel as autobiographical, Lost names itself paints a picture of Korea under colonial influence of Japan (Kim, p52). This is seen from the point of view of a small boy aged thirteen who is the main narrator of the story. The character of the narrator parallels to that of the author himself. He grows up in an environment or rather environments with mixed people: colonizer and the colonized; Christians and non-Christians; the haves and the have not; Koreans and Japanese; young people and old people; men and women; crooked people and honest people .what is most important is the fact that these differences develop the plot and propel it to greater heights. A key issue is the sharp contrasts that exist between people in terms of classes and gender. The differences do influence the development of characters particularly Koreans in the story. How these characters respond to the presence of Japanese colonialism becomes an interesting area of study as a result of these characters belonging to distinct classes and gender. Characters attempt to act in a manner that will continue to guarantee them relevance in the society, become the key determinant of the complexities of characters within either or both class and gender. This will also determine how the presence of Japanese colonialism will be counteracted.

The narrator’s family belongs to the upper middle class. They live a better life than even some of the Japanese around. This being a Korean family, it is able to get the access of some of the basic human requirements. This is an extended family comprising among others the narrator, his father, his mother, and his grandfather. The narrator leads the reader to believe that this family was a happy one compared to other Korean families. Could this perhaps be the reason why the narrator refuses to openly point a blaming finger at the colonizers? May be maybe not .but again the novel begins when the narrator is one year old in 1939-when the Japanese sets foot on the Korean soil and ends upon the exit of Japanese imperial masters in 1945. During all this time the narrator is still a child. The narrator does not see the problem with the Japanese having made their way into Korea. He does not want to contradict his father who most of the times seem to regret much for his generation’s inability to prevent the entrance of the Japanese in Korea. The father always prays that the narrator’s generation will forgive them for handing over to them a torn country.

The father notes that Korea was a good country in 1910’s. Patriots who were able and willing to defend and safeguard the dignity and the heritage of their nation inhabited it. He notes that successive Korean regimes have become lethargic to the cause of their own country. The narrator’s father cannot even dare to oppose his son. The narrator could have assumed the role of a political hero- a courageous field marshal to counter attack the Japanese threats and lead the country to reclaiming their lost liberty and not wait for mercy upon them from the Japanese to grant them political self independence. He believes that Korea did not attain political independence because it fought or demanded for it but attained its independence because the Japanese wanted to.

There is the Korean citizen who works for the Japanese government. They seem to perpetuate the cause of the colonizer. They mistreat and mishandle their fellow Koreans in an attempt to not only placate the colonizer but also to get access to the benefits that one is likely to accrue from such high levels of sycophancy. The Korean police cannot intervene to the mishandling of fellow Koreans by the Japanese even when circumstances seemed to suggest that it was possible.

That is a very good example of Koreans who cannot claim to be ‘Japanese ’and who cannot associate themselves with fellow Koreans. Since the birds of a feather flock together, these uniformed Koreans can only form their own class. Other Koreans belong in their different classes depending on whether the rationale behind the formation of these classes is :religion, migration, wealth and the list are endless. Most of characters representing these distinct classes are male characters. Was Richard Kim biased in the women characters display in the novel simply because he was a man himself?

A big coverage has been devoted to male characters. Does this mean that female characters do not feature prominently in the novel? Well, the issue is how Richard Kim seem to want to develop his female characters. For what role are female characters intended to achieve in the novel? The novel seem to progress without an impediment to achieve its intended purpose. The narrator’s mother does appear during the discussion between father and son, but she contributes nothing to the debate. She is just there to listen perhaps in order to become a witness just in case this will be referred to in the future. Don’t women seem to form a good part of the witnessing team?

This gender differences particularly on how women are treated form an interesting area of enquiry on what role each gender play particularly in the spirit of nationalism. Put in another way, what type of task should be entrusted to a particular gender putting into consideration the position of women in the society and the social cultural roles that must be played by a specific gender.

Men or rather, male characters seem to be the chief architects of history either in reality or in exaggerated forms. They are the ones who experience the ugly side of any political war-they risk their lives by going to the battlefronts .why should we not allow them to continue making history? Women on the other hand, have for long been portrayed as nurturers, mother, caregivers and members of the society who should always ensure their presence whenever they are called upon even if it means to listen, observe, and nurture the information. Who knows, the information might be required in the future as a testimony. I therefore see women as being people who can very well play the role of witnesses in the independence war .its true gender differences must provoke different roles.

When so many differences occur, one expects varied approach to life particularly in ones attempts to solve the challenges of life. In Richard’s Lost Names, the many differences in particular those of gender and classes exhibits differences in the manner in which  different characters address the issue sof Japanese colonialism. We learn particularly that the first days in school of the narrator were not the best ones. They are forced to speak the Japanese language. When he particularly claims to know an English song, his teacher scorns him.Japanese was the language everybody had to adopt. In fact as early as grade three levels, all children had to begin serious studies of the language. This idea of language coupled with the settlement instability alienates the narrator much. He feels as one lacking a sense of belonging. He is not certain whether to pledge allegiance to his motherland Korea or Non Korean lands. He is not sure of what values to hold and what values to let go. He is mot courageous enough to justify the Japanese act of dominating them. On the other hand, he does not want to side with the majority of Koreans who believe that the root causes of their problems is the Japanese.

Just as the title of the novel suggests, Koreans are forced against their will to abandon their names. They are made to pick Japanese names. The narrator adopts lwamoto – a Japanese name which means “foundation of the rock”. Every Koreans has to change ones name. Some Koreans are affected by this thing but to others, it is just a futile meaningless endeavor by the Japanese. In fact, according to one old Korean in the police department, his Korean old name is likely to remain despite all the pressures from the Japanese government to have it forgotten. He says:  “no one is going to call me by that name [the new Japanese name] anyway.” (Kim, 1970). How can either he or those who have known him for many years pretend not to be conscious of his original Korean name?

A person who has lost his name is like a person who has lost his or her true identity. This loss of names has been portrayed as being so devastating. Koreans will live never to forget it. A person who no longer identifies himself or herself with ones origins is like a person who have lost momentum. She is like a person tied up between two equally strong opposing sides. One does not in fact belong. This is the dilemma that the narrator’s father finds himself in. He is tied between the past and the future of Koreans. He never lived in the past. He will never live the future. What the narrator's father can do best is only to fantasize by alluding to the past which he could have wanted to be part and parcel of- a past when Korean men and women of action existed. Regarding the future, the narrator’s father is such incapacitated to believe that he can influence it. He only hopes that the narrator’s generation will probably start from scratch and courageously rewrite the history of Korea. Whether the narrator will take the challenge positively, may be hard to predict. It is not such easily knowable. But one thing is very certain; hope has and will never be a method- it is simply an excuse for incompetence. What the narrator's father can claim to possesses is the here and the now .but does this make the matters any better? No. according to his own words, the thirteen years covered by the novel from 1932-1945 is moments of sorrow. He in fact says ‘it is a time of mourning” (Kim 1970).

A key question here should be “what does one do during mourning periods?” upon critically assessing the narrator’s father, it is evidenced that people abstain totally from any physical confrontations with people and the environment. They just engage themselves in low small talks. Can such a person be thought of being the one to confront the imperialists? Of course no. due to this the narrator’s father does not participate in the struggle for independence of Korea. Also being a respected Korean by both Koreans and the Japanese he does not want to kill the trust.

It is very clear that the class differences and the gender differences, has clearly shaped the characters. It has also provided an avenue of proposing what character and roles they would have played. This multiplicity is responsible for the different approaches that the Koreans adopt to counteract the effect of Japanese presence in Korea.

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