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Lost Names by Richard Kim

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Introduction

Richard Kim’s novel, “Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood,” is a historical fiction that details the experiences of a Korean family during the Japanese occupation that lasted from 1932 until 1945. The title of the book, “Lost Names,” represents the oppressive nature of the Japanese empire, which forced Koreans to change the names they were born and christened with and adopt Japanese names. Essentially, the novel mirrors the tragic experiences of Koreans during the Japanese occupation and how they were forced to adopt a culture that is entirely different from their own. Considering the themes and message inherent in the novel, the objective in writing this report is to discuss the issues of socio-economic class and gender positions that Kim portrayed in the story. Moreover, the discussion will focus on identifying class and gender differences in the novel and Jordan characters that also portray those differences, and analyzing how the chosen characters would respond different to Japanese colonialism. Overall, the goal in analyzing Kim’s novel is to view the experiences of Koreans during the Japanese colonialism vis-à-vis characters or individuals who represent Jordan nationalism.

Korean Class and Gender vs. Jordan Characters

In Kim’s novel, the events and situations represent socio-economic class and gender positions in Korean society. The power of the Japanese empire to occupy and overrule Korea speaks volumes about the influence and social standing of Japan during that time. In terms of socio-economic class, the gap between the Japanese and Korean people led to changes in class and gender divisions in Korea, especially after Japan’s retreat. One of the most notable impacts of the Japanese occupation is the separation of social classes and gender in Korea. During and after the Japanese occupation, the socio-economic gap was underscored by how livelihood was affected by war during those times. Although the Korean people during that time were supposed to support one another against a common enemy, they were in conflict against each other, as depicted by the hostile events that happened in school and the presence of Koreans who sympathized with the Japanese empire. The gap in social class was also explored through the portrayal of slavery in the novel. In the story, Japanese colonial officials took advantage of their power and position to enslave Koreans by means of ordering them to do inane to heavy jobs. The oppressive nature of the Japanese empire was also highlighted by the fact that Japanese officials during that time forced Koreans to adopt Japanese names. While socio-economic gaps were highlighted in the novel, some scenes also depict gender differences, especially with how women were poorly treated during that time. Although the issue was not deeply explored in Kim’s novel, the abuse of Korean women by Japanese officials was hinted in some parts. Moreover, other discussions about the Japanese occupation in Korea focus on how colonial officials used their influence to abuse Korean women.

After the Japanese empire retreated, Korea was in turmoil. While the country attempted to recover from the damages left from the Japanese empire, the Korean people fought against each other, which then led to the separation of North and South Korea. During these times, the socio-economic gap between the two regions grew and is evidenced by the large gap between the economic growths of the two regions. The impact of colonization on Korea is parallel to the history of Jordan. Jordan has a long history of war and turmoil. From 1922 until 1946, Jordan was registered as a territory by the British rule. Like in Korea, Palestinians were also in conflict for reasons related to religion, politics, and territory. When Britain conquered Jordan, like Japan conquered Korea, the conflict in the country escalated because the socio-economic gap between the classes grew. The British Empire supported those who swore to support and engage in its wars and therefore, Palestinians who sympathized with the British were socio-economically well off than those who chose to revolt against the British empire. In Korea, the conflict between North and South Korean territories grew during and after the Japanese occupation, while in Jordan, conflict between Palestinians grew due to religious differences between the Arabs and the Jews. Similarly, Britain and Jordan, like Japan and Korea, were patriarchal societies that treated women unfairly, like second-class citizens. The similarities between the two – the British occupation of Jordan and the Japanese occupation of Korea – represents how tyranny aggravates conflicts and leads to increased socio-economic and gender gaps in society.

Character Responses to Colonialism

In terms of the responses towards colonialism, the difference between the Koreans and the Palestinians is that the latter chose a more aggressive stance against their colonizers. In Korea, people who used to be in power prior to the invasion of Japan orchestrated protests against the Japanese empire. Moreover, being in power, Korean politician-revolutionaries were able to ask help from their Chinese allies to overrule the Japanese empire. What followed were attacks against the Japanese army, assassination of Japanese leaders, and a series of protests, which eventually led to the liberation of Korea. On the other hand, Palestinian responses toward British colonialism were more aggressive, especially since religious differences in the country intensified the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews. Political differences also led to conflicts between Palestinians who were allowed to rule under the British mandate and those who oppose the rule. Several raids and attacks also occurred until Britain chose to liberate Jordan in 1946. Ultimately, the responses of Koreans and Palestinians toward colonialism are similar, although the latter are more aggressive.

In Kim’s novel, the author highlights the significance of the responses of Koreans toward colonialism and the events that follower thereafter. The author’s intentions in writing the novel were to simply illustrate how Korean mentality also led to the country’s demise. After being colonized by Japan and taken advantage of by China, Kim believes that the responses of Koreans during and after the Japanese occupation worsened the socio-economic, economic, and political situation in the country. The occupation led to a divide between the people until North and South Korea decided to separate instead of facing the challenges of rebuilding their nation. While Kim discusses these themes in his novel, the same situations underscore the events that happened in Jordan. While the British colony is at fault for taking advantage of and colonizing Jordan, religious and political differences between the Arabs and the Jews worsened the gaps and struggles among the people. Kim emphasizes the importance of earning liberation, such that people should work hard and work together in order to attain freedom not only for themselves but also for the entire nation as a whole.

Conclusion

The analysis of themes and symbolisms in Kim’s novel, “Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood,” reflects the parallel experiences of Koreans and Palestinians during the Japanese and British occupations respectively. In this case, it is important to view the message and intention of Kim in writing the book. The similarities between Korea and Jordan include that of the conflicts that intensified because Koreans and Palestinians were in conflict among themselves even after being liberated from colonial rule. While Kim underscores the tyrannical nature of Japanese colonizers, he also emphasizes the significance of the people’s responses toward colonialism in determining the outcomes of conflict. Overall, through the novel, Kim teaches readers that freedom and liberation are earned and that every individual is responsible in making sure that they attain it or are freed from oppression if only they themselves realize the importance of community and oneness.

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