20th Century Korean Literature

Book 12
Literature Translation Institute of Korea

 Baek Sin-ae’s works primarily deal with poverty and women. These matters are represented most excellently in her representative work “Poverty” (1934). In this story, the Old Woman from Maechon Place is responsible for the livelihood of her family members who, in a state of absolute poverty, have lost the ability to manage their basic lives. Baek goes further and shows the dual nature of the repression of women. The Old Woman from Maechon Place, who is the main character of this story, represents the maternal instinct, and the story shows how she manages to fight poverty through strength and patience. She engages in all kinds of manual labor in order to support her incompetent sons and their wives, while earning the scorn of those around her. But in this situation, her grandchild is born, and consequently, she cannot escape this role of supporting her family. Through these things, Baek criticizes the patriarchal constraints that exploit destitute women. But this critique is twofold. The poor woman desires to escape these confines, but as seen with the Old Woman from Maechon Place, she often internalizes this ideal and is unable to find escape because she simply chooses to endure the struggles. Through “Poverty,” Baek realistically portrays the double suppression that has been exerted on destitute women.
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About the author

 Along with such writers as Park Hwa-seong and Gang Gyeong-ae, Baek Sin-ae (1908-1939) is one of the leading female writers of the 1930s. She appeared on the literary scene in 1929 with the pen name Park Gae-hwa when her short story “My Mother” was published in the Chosun Ilbo. Although she published a small volume of works in her lifetime, such as “Bokseon,” “Poverty,” “The Wicked Wealthy,” and “Needy”—20 in all—they cover a wide range of subjects, from the portrayal of the impoverished lives of people all the way to a critique of society that suppresses women’s activism. She was involved in groups like Chosun Women’s Association, as well as Women’s Youth Union, and she even traveled to Siberia in 1928. Her experience from this period is depicted in her tragic story “Caray,” which deals with a Korean who goes back and forth across the borders of Russia. The main character in this story, Suni, looks upon the east with affection and is inclusive of even the immigrant “Coolie,” whom she embraces with compassion. What is particularly striking about Baek’s work is that she approaches the problem of poverty, not from a distance as a national problem, but from the point of view of a member of the lower class; in other words, she comes alongside those who are poor and destitute in solidarity and portrays their suffering and issues.

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Additional Information

Literature Translation Institute of Korea
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Published on
Dec 11, 2013
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Literary Collections / Asian / General
Literary Collections / General
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