Images of American soldiers in Korean and American fiction : a comparative study

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Yoon, Jung-ho

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While the relationship between South Korea and the U.S. pivots on U.S. troops’ stay in Korean territory, this condition and the problems it entails are frequently explored by literary texts of the two countries. This dissertation investigates Korean and American perceptions of contemporary reality through an analysis of the ways in which images of American soldiers are rendered in Korean stories by O Sang-won, Nam Chong-hyon, and Chon Sang-guk as well as American novels by James Salter, Gene Coon, and Stephen Becker. In Korean stories, American soldiers are portrayed as sexual aggressors, whose violation of Korean women parallels the destruction of Korean tradition, culture, and thus Korean identities. Conversely, American novels depict soldiers as v victims of Korean War-related military duty, which constrains the soldiers’ inner necessity and individual freedom. Korean and American literatures’ endeavors to represent U.S.-Korea relations and their contradictions are also symptomatic. Underlying each Korean story’s negative portrayal of American soldiers is the Korean male protagonist’s nostalgia for a patriarchal social order and a secret desire to emulate the soldiers’ power and manliness. In many respects, American soldiers are mirror images upon which the protagonist reflects his will to power. On the contrary, focusing on the hero’s struggle for individual autonomy, American texts pass on the assumption that the individual is essentially free from social determination. But the latter assumption that valorizes universal meaning over social and political implication of contemporary history is undermined by the texts’ total indifference to the issues so strenuously articulated in Korean stories. In the given context, this neglect can be understood as another political action, which gives a tacit approval to imperialist U.S. military expansionism. Aesthetic visions presented by the two national literatures are, thus, not only partial but also culturally and ideologically biased. While assessing contradictions embedded in contemporary history, the texts simultaneously participate in those contradictions.



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