Existential Reality and Aesthetic Epiphany 


The pictures were done by pencil on charcoal paper.  
As I turned the sheets one by one, I began to sense  
that there was a common element in all the simple  
lines. Something was flaming in the pictures.  

(1) In the preface to "The Wild Geese," a collection of the stories he had written prior to the 1945 liberation, Hwang Sun-won says that the only works that could come out in the open during the dark days were "The Star" and "The Shade." He said. "lt was ironic that the star that comes out only in darkness and the shade that is made only against the light could have seen the sunlight."  

His remark is a comment not only on the situation he was then in but also indirectly on his literature. In his 1957 autobiographical first-person narrative, "Tomorrow," written when he was recognized as a major writer, Hwang calls himself "a romanticist." His literary world is imbued with symbolism which in turn is closely connected with romanticism. But his symbolic world is not an abstract one alienated from reality, but rather a world deeply rooted in naturalistic reality and existentialism.  

In other words, Hwang's literature contains symbolism, existentialism, and naturalism rooted in stark reality. This quality shows itself in the imagery of "Lithography Etched in Darkness," in which absolute human values and a concomitantly ideal aesthetic order are simultaneously pursued as if they were eternally glowing stars in chaotic darkness. However, in the 1970's, Hwang's works were criticized as an "an undesirable literary example" for their lack of historic consciousness and awareness of reality.  
It goes without saying that Hwang's works do not show the kind of strong social consciousness and dialectical historical progress found in social realism literature. But because his literature is rich in symbolism that is based on naturalism and romanticism as well as existentialism, it has in it a large measure of social criticism, myth, and morality in all of which a passionate pursuit of truth and human spirit is manifested.  

(2) In this essay, his major works will be reviewed with the purpose of literature, that is instead of being isolated from reality, a wholesome one steeped in symbolism, naturalism, romanticism, and existentialism.  

In his early short stories such as "The Star," "A Country Boy," "Chicken Rites," and "A Shower," Hwang deals with adolescent boys and girls. Their world, however, is not an Eden but a gloomy naturalistic world overshadowed by fear and death. In other words, these stories, as some critics point out, do not depict a fantastic world of children's tales, but symbolically express the experiences of the adolescent whose world gradually falls from idyllic to brutal. As critic Yu Jong-Ho says, "The Star," Hwang's most representative work, "catches in his refined sentences the delicate psychology of a boy who fixates on and idealizes his dead mother, hates his sister who seems to destroy his mother's image, and awakens to the idea of beauty and the beast. The boy resists favors offered by his sister, the object of his hatred."  

"The Star" is a story of the initiation of a boy whose beautiful invisible world, symbolized by his dead mother, is being destroyed by his visibly ugly sister. The boy feels disillusionment, anger, and resentment. He also undergoes the shocking experience of his sister's marriage and death, thus learning life's vicissitudes and mortality. On the surface, "A Country Boy" seems to be the story of one boy, told emotively in lyrical description, but it is universal in meaning in terms of the boy's initiation into life's basic structure. The story is told in the form of a folktale as a grandmother tells a story to her grandchild. She tells of a legendary "flower-like maiden" in a fox's hide to the boy who munches on acorns as a bear does for its hibernation. He in turn speaks of his dream that he has one snowy night in which he says he watched in horror his father fight a tiger. These two stories are not meaningless nursery tales but "living stories" foretelling various difficulties the boy will face in the future.  

One of Hwang's major works, "A Shower," also seems at first glance to be a story of subtle feelings between a boy and a girl on the verge of falling in love. It seems to belong to the same category of adolescent initiation stories. It is for this reason that one should look carefully into the fusion of symbolic structure and imagery. The story begins with a scene in which the protagonist boy happens to catch sight of the great-granddaughter of Mr. Yoon, a minor scholar-civil servant. The girl is perched on a stepping-stone in a stream playing with the water. She begins to wash her face, then suddenly stops to scoop up a handful of water as if trying to grasp her face reflected in the mirror-like water. In a moment, she picks up a pebble from the bottom of the stream and throws it at the boy with a cry, "You fool!" She acts as if she wants him to recognize her but is too shy to say so. The next moment she runs into the thick reeds now basking in the autumn sunlight. The next day the boy comes back to the stream but there is no sign of the girl. From that day on, the boy develops a habit of rubbing the pebble. One day, the boy tries, as the girl did, to take hold of his face mirrored in the stream and finds her face reflected in the back of his. Embarrassed, he runs away but trips over a stepping-stone. With his nose bleeding, he disappears into the buckwheat field.  

One Saturday the boy and girl meet again when she shows him a beautiful "silk clam." In the ensuing days they romp around the golden autumn fields and run, like the flowing water of a ditch in a field, all the way to the mid slope of a mountain. A sudden shower forces them to climb down. On the way down they take refuge in a ruined lookout and become physically close in the haystack. After the rain stops, the boy carries the girl on his back over the ditch. When they arrive at the stream, the sky has cleared.  

Every day the boy comes to the stream but the girl is nowhere to be seen. After a long absence, the girl appears to tell him that she has been ill since she caught a cold in the rain. She is not well yet. She then shows him a corner of the front of her pink sweater. The little corner is stained in light green. It happened, she says, while he was carrying her over the ditch. She hands him a handful of dates she picked that morning for her family's ancestoral worship service. The next evening he sneaks into the walnut grove that he spied on earlier during the day. He wants to give her some walnuts. Shortly later, though, he is told by his family that the girl's family is going to move to Yanpyong. Disappointed, the boy lies in bed fingering a walnut when his father comes home to tell him that Mr. Yoon's family fortune has declined irrevocably and the girl has died. She is reported to have said that she wanted to be buried in the clothes she was wearing the day she told him about her illness.  

This story places two adolescents against the backdrop of idyllic beauty; however, behind the facade, there lurks the shadow of fear and death, the very theme of an initiation story of naturalistic style. This theme is supported by the story's inner structure. First, the girl, a fifth grader of a rapidly declining family, is being exiled from the Eden of childhood. The season is autumn. The fields they play in are waves of white, beard-like flowers, and amid them stands a scarecrow, a symbol of death. As for the space, the golden fields reaching up to the edge of the mountain symbolize childhood while the mountain itself is an image of future hardships. The boy and the girl run wild in the sunny fields, happy and carefree, but get drenched by a fearful shower as soon as they enter the mountain. The moment they climb up the mountain, the sky suddenly turns dark with clouds and pours down "purple rain." This "purple rain" symbolizes death lurking behind the idyll, emerging to drench them. This is their symbolic experience of death:  

Oh, an inky cloud looms overhead. Suddenly there is  
noise everywhere. Winds rustle through. In a twinkling  
the whole world turns purple.  

Raindrops fall from an oak tree as we climb over the  
crest of a hill. Thick drops they are. The back of  
my neck gets sudden chills. The thick poles of  
water blind me.  

In the above-discussed works, Hwang deals with the tragic human condition ruled by natural laws. Through his tightly constructed sentences, he not only shows man's sentimental submission to his fate but also man's will to resist and overcome it. Here Hwang creates his own symbolic literature, fusing the naturalistic human condition with the human spirit and will.  

In "The Star," when the boy thinks his ugly sister ruins his "idealized mother's image," he does not accept it; instead, he rebels against it. When the sister dies as natural laws dictate, the boy feels sorrow over her death, but he does not despair. He tries to believe that her soul will turn into a star in the night sky. His love for his mother remains firm, for his mother is the home of human spirit that brings new order when darkness descends. When he denies his sister, he is not refuting the reality of her presence but rather rebelling against her transgression against social norm. Above all, what is most important symbolically is that his sorrow for his sister's death extends toward his shedding heartfelt tears for her who now lives in the starry world where his mother is. Thus in his imaginary world, he meets his mother.  

This form of symbolism Hwang uses is related to the "jewel image" in his other work, "The Shade." In this story, a young painter, sitting at a dark tavern counter, tries to paint his lover who is grilling a piece of meat that a hunter brought her. He meets and drinks with a man from the south, who in turn wants to show him some precious jewels he says have been handed down through generations in his family. The man accidentally drops them, though. When they find them in the dark, they are unbroken. Here the jewel is like the star in "The Star." The moment they find the jewels unbroken, they laugh uproariously, as if they have discovered something wondrous and precious. Their laughter is akin to what the boy feels about his "mother star." The jewels and the star provide moments of epiphany:  

There were tears in the young man's eyes. When the man  
from the south had the jewels in his hand, the young  
painter asked, "Why do you have tears in your eyes when you  
didn't even laugh?" The young painter holds the jewels, now  
dully gleaming in the dark, and smiles now and then, with  
tears in his eyes.  

This kind of symbolism flows into another jewel image in "A Country Boy." It is a story of a school boy and a beautiful girl in a fox's hide, in which naturalism and symbolism are fused together in the imagery of jewels. The jewel and the star are Hwang's often used imagery of the ideal. When the school boy swallows the jewel, a concrete objectification of human soul, he comes alive, wholesome and healthy, whereas the girl degenerates into an animal. The jewel, a symbol of the human soul, has been used in Hwang's naturalistic work when he writes in a mythical form, which, of course, is part of the accumulated experience of the Korean people. When examined closely, "A Shower" is also a work in a similar vein. Hwang not only depicts naturalistic phenomenon but constructs a symbolic context as well.  

When the boy and the girl run wildly in the autumn field under the deep blue sky picking wisteria-like flowers on arrowroot vines, what is the symbolic meaning of their action? Unconsciously, they are looking for something to fill their inner void. When they try to scoop their own images from the water, this narcissistic act is their pursuit of their own selfhood. When the girl picks up and throws a pebble at the boy, she seems to have found the same jewel in the boy. The fact that the girl appears beside him in the reflection supports this interpretation. The silk clam she gives him is directly related to this. The beautiful pattern on the clam symbolizes the girl's love for something essential and true. Throughout their romp in the field and on the mountain, they are looking for the rainbow of their hearts. Even though her sweater gets stained while the boy carries her, she keeps the silk clam of her love. Her death is a cruel blow dealt by nature. Yet, her wish to take the "stain" of her love to her grave shows that, though the human condition is constrained and ruled by nature, human consciousness through imagination continues to struggle to preserve human values.  

(3) This combination of naturalism and symbolism shows itself more concretely in "Living with the Star" and "The Descendants of Cain", two stories of adults pitted against their social backgrounds. In Living with the Star, the heroine Komnyo, who is born into a poor family, goes through a gradual degradation from servant girl to prostitute to an old man's mistress. This degradation is due to no fault of hers but rather to naturalistic social forces. Even in the midst of a degrading life, Komnyo rises above her own self-interests and natural desires. She follows what she considers to be God's will and devotes the rest of her life to helping others in need. For Komnyo, God's will is revealed in man's humanity to men. "The Descendants of Cain" depicts how the post-liberation ideological division and its resultant brutal social milieu affect human life. Though the characters in this novel fall victim directly and indirectly to the forces of their circumstances and natural laws, as other characters do in naturalistic novels, there is a fierce struggle between different generations to restore human values in "The Descendants of Cain". Old Man Dosup of the older generation turns himself into a tool of the natural and social forces and manifests animal instincts befitting a descendant of Cain. However, his daughter Ojaknyo and son Samduk silently rebel and try with love to save people caught in the trap of nature's laws. As critic Chun Yee Doo points out, Ojaknyo and Komnyo refuse to surrender to their historical conditions. Their souls are deeply rooted in love and "strong elemental vitality." In this novel, historical conditions and human values lock horns while naturalism and symbolism are in harmony.  

On the other hand, his more representative novel "Trees Stand on a Cliff" deals with a similar theme, but on a more realistic, experiential level, focusing on social realism and existential consciousness. The backdrop of the novel is a war, the most absurd human reality, which makes "Trees Stand on a Cliff" akin to naturalistic novels. The difference between his earlier short stories and this novel is that whereas his earlier works are set in natural surroundings willed by God, this novel is based on the combined forces of the absurd human condition given by God and social forces created by Man. Therefore, "Trees Stand on a Cliff" can be said to be a story of initiation of the protagonist to the hithertofore hidden brutal reality of life. Of course, the first force that destroys the dreams of Dongho and his fellow soldiers is Time. But it is the war that accelerates their destruction.  

Dongho, one of the main characters, has never known life's absurdity until he participates in the war. During the war Dongho begins to learn to drink("the adult thing") and have sexual experiences. Hyuntai, who joins the army before Dongho, teaches Dongho these vices to make him a man. For a while Dongho feels guilty and uneasy toward his girlfriend Soogie, but as he experiences more "adult things" he begins to lose his innocence and integrity. Whenever his old innocent self raises its head, he drinks more and buries himself in the physical pleasures with Okjoo in order to allay his guilt and anesthetize his conscience. Finally, he confronts his corrupted self and rages against himself in order to regain his innocence:  

Dongho walked on as if pushed by some unknown forces.  
But he stopped soon. An idea clawed through his brain.  
"The human body is such an unreliable thing. This body of  
mine erases the dim memories of him. Sometimes I am  
scared for no reason." Dongho felt as if a handful of sand  
were hurled into his heart. In no time, each grain of the  
sand began to heat up. He became stiff with an uncontrollable  

One freezing winter night, Dongho leaves Chuparyong where his detachment is located. Over narrow mountain paths he goes on to Sodogomi to see Okjoo, only to witness her engaged in a sexual act with the head of the local youth group. He shouts at them, not because of their act but because he sees himself in it. "A human body is such an unreliable thing. This body of mine erases the dim memories of him," Okjoo used to say. Her remark is aimed at Dongho, he knew. Dongho realizes that his physical relation with Okjoo erases his dim memories of his only love, Soogie. Paradoxically, to Dongho, death seems the only escape from his self, corrupted by the loss of human values and dreams. In the total destruction that is war, death seems the only way to preserve human values and dignity. As Ernest Hemingway says, he was destroyed by the forces of the war, but he was not defeated:  

It was two hours later that Dongho found the body.  
It was during the change of the sentry guard. Under  
the night sky, the blood was darkly frozen. She had  
cut her left wrist. Beside her right hand lay a glass  
piece half buried in the snow. Her face was white as  

What shocks Dongho more than anything else is his discovery that there is nothing reliable in this world except for the tragic existential human condition, just like the fistful of dirt that Sergeant Kim sends to his parents when he dies and the blank letter that Dongho sends to Soogie. Once, his friend Hyuntai speaks of the shock of disillusionment and self-awareness that comes from the paradox of the destructive forces of the war and the realness of one's dreams.  

Dongho is a victim of this paradox. What about Hyuntai then? He has been dragged into the war ahead of Dongho. Hyuntai kills a woman in a hut during his "search and destroy" mission. He is severely wounded in the "snipers' hill" and spends three weeks in a field hospital. The awareness of the brutal and tragic human condition and the loneliness that he experiences in the war only make him seek relief in the primitive pleasures of drinking and fornification. On the surface, Hyuntai looks like a fearless courageous soldier who can overcome hardships on the war, partially due to the fact that he has been raised in an affluent home. But the truth is that he tries to overcome his fear, evade his conscience, and affirm life by indulging in drinking and sinning. But Hyuntai's momentary pleasures nearly drive others around him to the brink of death. Discharged from the army, he returns to Pusan only to resume his life of dissipation and debauchery in order to forget the wounds of the war. He forces himself upon Miran, the girlfriend of his old comrade Yoonku, which eventually drives her to death. Hyuntai not only forces Soogie to have sex with him when she comes to him to find the cause of Dongho's suicide, but also leads another woman to her death. This other woman, Keihyang, lives in mute silence in an eatery called Pyongyang in Nakwondong. Hyuntai carries on such a self-destructive life because he is not strong but hopelessly weak. His guilt over his murder of the woman in the hut cannot be exorcised by his own strength. He can resort only to chaos. His awareness of his own weakness is clearly expressed in the shocking scene just before he forces himself sexually on Soogie:  

"You are the one who killed him. You made him into someone he never was. That's why you have avoided me. You are a coward. You are a drunkard who can't say anything unless drunk." Only her eyes were bloodshot on her ashen face. Hyuntai felt himself becoming calm and cold. He poured himself another drink. "You say I made him the way he became? If so, I must have been a strong man, but you've just said I am a coward. Frankly speaking, the reason why I became such a drunkard and a  
coward is..."  

Hyuntai turns into a cowardly drunkard because he cannot overcome his guilt over his murder of the woman in the hut. If one looks deeper into his psyche, however, one finds that he is unable to deal with the forces of his circumstances, thus resorting to instinctive and destructive behavior befitting a descendant of Cain. In Hwang's view, man causes war and becomes wounded and scarred by it, and in order to try to forget the pain and fear, wounds and destroys others in turn. It is the nature of Cain's descendants, riding eternally on this vicious cycle. Hwang reiterates this view in "The Sun and the Moon" more directly through the mouths of the characters, but in "Trees Stand on a Cliff", he dramatizes the duality with his supremely managed imagery.  
The tragedy of this story is that the characters are from the beginning unable to withstand their loneliness and the forces of their circumstances, just like the trees that barely stand on a cliff. In the "search and destroy zone" they hold their guns to their sides, advancing step by step toward a seemingly transparent and serene space, and they feel an unbearable pressure as if they were shut in by a glass wall under a burning afternoon sun. It is like the pressure of nothingness, of a void. They cannot bear the anxiety about and the pressure of the void because they fail to control themselves by patience and self-restraint. When they break down the glass wall of existence, the glass shards will pierce everyone nearby. And when man cannot overcome his wounds with his will power, he may cause a chain of social reactions. After Hyuntai climbs down the slope where trees stand aslant, he abuses and kills the poor woman in the hut not only because he fears the woman but because he wants to surmount that pressure and fear through an instinctively destructive act. Of course, Hyuntai has a self-justifying excuse that the woman tried to hang onto him. She seems unable to bear fear and loneliness like her low cottage that is bowing down under the weight of its roof:  

When I went down there, she didn't even resist much. When  
I was about to leave, she suddenly grabbed my hand.  
So, I killed her. That's all.  

Hyuntai is a man who knows his problems, but does not act upon them. When other people fail to overcome their hardships, he forgets himself and tramples them down. He tramples the woman in the hut, Miran, and Soogie, simply because of his hatred toward them and his own destructive instinct. He is attracted to Keihyang because, unlike other women, she knows how to hide her feelings and how to deal with her loneliness without depending on others:  
Once in a while Hyuntai missed the idiot-like girl.  
She had no sign of emotions on her face, as if all her  
feelings were coldly hidden under the smooth layer of  
her face powder. Even when she showed a hint of a  
smile, it was a mechanical movement of her lips, having  
nothing to do with her inner feelings or intentions.  
Her small even white teeth between her lips gleamed  
The first time he meets Keihyang is when he is working in his father's company following his release from the army and his college graduation. While riding a bus one day, he happens to see a woman in rags in the street carrying a baby girl, which triggers in him the old pain of his war wounds. In that moment he loses his barely maintained self-control. From then on, he goes to see Keihyang not necessarily because he wants sexual pleasure but because he finds a measure of calm in her blank face and her supreme self-control. Whenever Soogie, the girl of his dead comrade Dongho, shows excessive emotions or seems to want to depend on others, he seeks out Keihyang with her frozen face.  
But Hyuntai eventually fails to be like Keihyang. He sees many of his comrades, like Sergeant Second Class Sunwoo, Sukki, and Yunkoo, who have suffered worse injuries and have stayed longer in the hospital, overcome their physical and mental wounds by dint of their willpower. Yunkoo loses his woman to death, gets betrayed by his friend, and has financial and social problems. Yet, Yunkoo succeeds in raising himself above all these, which moves Hyuntai to resolve to climb out of his own dissipation. Hyuntai, however, eventually succumbs to his instinctively destructive urges. He spends the money he gets from Yunkoo to buy eyeglasses for Sukki. He repents his irresponsibility and lethargy that he displays at the eatery for grilled sparrows. Then, in the next moment, his urge for revenge and murder gets the better of him. He buys a knife and causes Keihyang to die. Keihyang is not the idiot he thinks she is. She overcomes her lot with sheer willpower. When Keihyang says she wants to die because she cannot bear Hyuntai's physical torture anymore, he realizes that she, too, is no longer his emotional haven. Contrary to what Hyuntai thinks, Keihyang keeps her dignity by bringing death upon herself. Those who overcome their war wounds are not just the dead, like Dongho and Keihyang. Yunkoo clears some wasteland and raises chickens; Soogie, though more deeply wounded than anyone and carrying the baby of Hyuntai whom Yunkoo hates, comes to Yunkoo's chicken farm. Soogie comes to realize that the only one she can rely on is herself, as Dongho's blank letter seemed to mean.  
(4) "The Sun and the Moon" further develops the theme of "Trees Stand on a Cliff." As in "The Moving Castle," on the surface "The Sun and the Moon" seems to deal with the conflicts of class differences in a sociological context. On a deeper level, "The Sun and the Moon," tightly woven in a perfect harmony of structure and symbolic imagery, probes the conflicts between man and natural forces. The background and the main characters, the butchers and their descendants, are similar to those of "Trees Stand on a Cliff" in the sense that both groups are caught in human tragedy. In "The Sun and the Moon" Hwang seems to include cows in the same category of living creatures as man. Records of symbolism of cows, are given by Hwang as follows.  
A legendary Chinese King Shinnong had a cow's head  
and a human body which means cows were considered  
The beauracratic titles during the Shilla Dynasty such as  
Kakkan and Kakchan had the letter 'kak' which means  
cow born. A sign that Koreans, too, worshipped cows.  
In Exodus of the Old Testament, it is said that they made  
a golden cow and worshipped it.  
In the west, water, moon, and cow symbolized procreation.  
Water meant man's semen, the moon for it's closeness to  
woman also meant procreation. The moon changes from   
full to nothing and back. The crescent and cow horn, put  
together, form the shape of the full moon; therefore, cow  
is a symbol of procreation.  
The protagonist of "The Sun and the Moon," a young architect named Inchul, overhears in a conversation between his father Sangjin and his older brother Inho that he is a descendant of a butcher("a descendant of Cain") and that there is a tragic family history. His father had to suffer contempt and extreme maltreatment from people around him because he was a butcher's son. He even lost his sister and wife. To get himself out of the unbearable lot, he escaped to Seoul where he made his fortune and hid himself with his family fearing that the exposure of his ancestry might hinder his social success. Inchul, on the other hand, does not blame his father and decides to go back to his father's hometown as a means to find his own future course. Inchul searches for many paths he can take, either as a participant in the family drama or as an observer. Hwang's intention in giving his protagonist an architect's profession seems to be that an architect is essentially a man who seeks different ways to build.  
Back in the hometown, Inchul is told of the death of his father's older brother. What makes him open his eyes is the fact that his family has worshipped for generations a knife wrapped in blood-red cloth, symbolizing the butcher's job. Inchul feels that sanctifying the butchering work in such a manner has come from an unwholesome existential attitude. He also meets his cousin Kiryoung who tells him what it is like being a descendant of a butcher and how he overcame it. Throughout this story, there are many indirect suggestions on how to surmount the self-consciousness and pain of being a butcher's family. Inchul's father made his escape by amassing a fortune, sacrificing family love and human values; his mother who no longer loved her husband, sought it in Christianity and in living alone in a mountain. Inchul's half-brother, shocked by the behavior of his parents, forsakes a loving marriage in order to escape his family. He finds peace in a good role as an actor in a play, while another half-brother Insoon tries to allay his pain by giving his love to all animals. Finally, Inchul tries to find his escape in his relation with Nami, who actively seduces him sexually. Inchul thinks he might be able to find his escape from his pain and self-consciousness in his physical relationship with Nami, but he restrains himself at the last moment because he is haunted by an image of a man's face in pain after killing a cow:  
Into Inchul's brain, black waves rushed in and  
crashed, rushed in and crashed. In the waves was  
a man's shining eyes. You've come to a wrong place.  
I have no cousins. I have no relatives.  
Inchul begins to drink and wanders around. After a while he goes to the slaughter house where Kiryoung works in an attempt to confront himself. There, Kiryoung tells him of his own suffering and the legend of the sacred knife that the butchers worshipped. During the Korean War, Kiryoung had volunteered; when he came back, he found that the communists had killed his two brothers. With the knife, Kiryoung murdered the father of his brother's murderers; though he didn't want to carry on the family vocation, Kiryoung decided to accept it for, he told Inchul, he felt a kind of pressure upon him when his father tried to save him. As those soldiers in "Trees Stand on a Cliff" who battled with the pain of the war and struggled to overcome it by killing more, Kiryoung himself feels that all slaughtering acts are caused by man and man's loneliness. Kiryoung continues to say that man must bear loneliness by confronting his own self.  
But Inchul finds his escape from his pain and guilt in Nami and Tahei's love. Tahei is not as aggressively positive as Nami but both actively seek their place in life. Nami's love for Inchul is positive and aggressive. She asks Inchul to design a new house, a symbol of her wish to pursue a new life with him. Their relationship deteriorates and they part, but she tells him to call her when his design is completed. Inchul researches different models and harmonizes them in his own design. When Nami's house is being completed their relationship begins to improve. Other people who try to escape pain and isolation through naterial gain or destructive acts gradually fall into ruin or death. Inchul's father, who gave up love and humanity for money, finally realizes his errors and commits suicide.  
Then, what is the goal that Inchul and Nami are seeking? It is love and hope for the future, concretely embodied in the house-warming party held in the second floor hall of the new house. In Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, the guests at Mrs. Dalloway's party are gathered mostly to forgive one another's mistakes and to ease their pain with understanding and love. They seem to want nothing but repentance and love. Here Hwang's purpose seems not to compare Nami's aggressive love and Tahei's sisterly love, but to focus on love, understanding, repentance, and sympathy, as only these can heal the pain and loneliness of human existence. Inchul therefore concludes that man, Cain's descendant, should seek salvation not by going into the mountain but by going among the people, as Jesus taught man. Inchul leaves the house to tell his new discovery to Kiryoung:  
In order for man to rediscover his alienated self, he  
must first begin to bear his loneliness.... These were  
Kiryoung's words.... It was true. But such loneliness  
doesn't come only from isolation of individuals....  
I must see Kiryoung. I must tell him.  
(5) In "The Sun and the Moon" Inchul suffers and wanders long because of his stain as a descendant of Cain before he discovers his direction of life. But his young brother Inmoon finds it intuitively in his love for all living creatures. This theme is further developed and expanded in "Mask" through a new aesthetic dimension. Mask is a collection of finely sculpted, refined, beautiful short stories so exquisitely structured that, like James Joyce's "Dubliners", it seems an unusually constructed novel rather than a collection of short stories.  
As "The Place of Death," a story in "Mask", indicates, the main theme is the expansion of human consciousness vis-a-vis the absurdity of the human condition contained in different situations and masks. But what catches the reader's attention is that Hwang has made a few new attempts in "Mask", showing considerably modern sensibility in his style as well as in life experiences he depicts. In "Mask" he peels off his naturalistic tendencies and succeeds in blending realism and symbolism. For example, in an early work of "Chicken Rites," he uses the snake and the swallow as images of the human body and spirit during a boy's initiation stage and a red hair ribbon as the forbidden line. With these archetypal images, he delineates in mythical context the dialectic process of the expansion of human consciousness. In works like "Trees Stand on a Cliff" and "The Sun and the Moon," Hwang is naturalistic and critical as he juxtaposes existential experiences and instinctively destructive experiences. However, in Mask, he deals with man's will for life and aesthetic epiphanies as he shows social reality, wholesome morality, and man's more mature experience. His stance in all these is more detached. In "A Still Warm Shell Fragment," a story of heavy social consciousness and man's historical duty, Hwang connects a sense of bond among men, man's innate love of others, and man's sense of justice. Hwang writes here with a comic touch as he sheds light on spiritual luminosity that comes from man's just and righteous acts.  
During the April 19th, 1960, Student Revolt against the Syngman Rhee regime, Juno marches with his fellow students when real bullets fly toward them. He takes his arm from around his friend's shoulders and runs into an alley. At the moment he thinks he is safe, he is struck by a stray bullet but is saved by a woman who runs through a hail of bullets only to save his life. She turns out to be a prostitute. Racked by guilt and shame, Juno sets out to find the woman who risked her own life for him. When he finds her, he is shocked that she is a victim of absurd social forces. Although Juno wants to show her his gratitude, she feels only rage at his unintended superior attitude. He continues to feel ashamed of his cowardice until one day he actively joins in another demonstration and feels a resurgence of life:  
Words were useless. He was outraged. Standing firmly, Juno began to flail his fists every which way. Hit by his fists, a man covered his face with both hands. Juno kicked his belly. Then he began to run wildly through the dispersing crowd. He felt alive for the first time in a long while.  
The works in Mask are varied, but all of them are concerned with social realism, basic and innate altruism, and human will-power. "A June Dialogue with Mother" is a deeply moving story of a mother who throws her crying baby into the river lest the shipful of refugees might be detected by enemy soldiers. Afterward, she "cuts off with scissors her swollen breasts." On the other hand, "A Tumbler of Primary Colors" and "Mask" make us feel the pain of the war, natural laws, and human will pitted against time and machines. "Mask" in particular shows that however much pain and injury "the jungle laws" may inflict upon man, they cannot subjugate the human will to build. It is a story of a carpenter who loses an arm in the war, but builds a new house with his one arm. "The Winter Forsythia" and "Roots" are about the naturally flowing love of children and the elderly for all living things. This love is objectified in bright little flowers and a stone statue of the Virgin Mary. In "Nature," written in a confessional narrative, Hwang says that an ideal physical and spiritual union between men and women does not come naturally but through human will to overcome the conventional and accept the unusual. Hwang's imagery of "the meeting of an unanchored kite and star" is outstanding. The most excellent stories are "The Shade of a Sound" and "The Place of Death. The most excellent stories are "The Shade of a Sound" and "The Place of Death." In the former, there is the clear laughter of the boys ringing a bell with their whole bodies as if to show the path for man's salvation. There is also an aesthetic epiphany that comes from the inspiration of art works that are created by men of pure hearts. As a work of social criticism, "The Place of Death" is completely opposite to "The Shadow of a Sound." It accuses the society for being blind to the way to salvation and engaging in destruction and mistrust.  
As discussed above, Hwang's literature is not a literature alienated from reality but a literature that fuses naturalism and realism against a historical background, topped by romantic and transcendental human spirit and human values, thus achieving and creating a symbolic literature with a profound touch of existentialism. In short, Hwang's luminous works are an aesthetic revelation that can inspire expansion of the human spirit. It is only through this expansion of the human spirit that we can overcome the absurdity of the human condition. This is the light Hwang sees among the stars in the dark. This is the reason why his readers eagerly anticipate the meaning of the flaming light Hwang will shine for us in his next work, "The Dice of Gods."  

Translated by Choi jin-young. She is a professor of English at Chung-Ang University in Seoul. She taught for several years at a college in North Carolina before returning to Korea. She also translated into English a Korean novel by Kim won-il, The Wind and the River, and many Korean short stories.