POVERTY SOMETIMES means facing many adversities, whether they are economic or social. One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jung-eun sharply depicts the harsh lives of the impoverished through two main characters, Eun-gyo and Mu-jae.
Set in a slum area of Seoul, the story starts with Eun-gyo and Mu-jae having conversations. Eun-gyo and Mu-jae are both repair-shop assistants who dropped out of the school due to their financial difficulties. They often discuss their futures and what they will do once their home is demolished as part of the housing reconstruction plan by the government. The novel shows the bare reality of the living condition in the slum. In fact, many people rarely care for lives of the homeless and remain indifferent to what they have to do in order to endure their lives. The book portrays how the impoverished have to toil desperately every day to barely maintain their livelihoods. For instance, Mu-jae and Eun-gyo have to give up their very own educational rights in order to survive without any support. The slums are like the shadow of our society: dark and unnoticed.
The word “shadow” frequently appears throughout the novel. The concept of shadow symbolizes the dark façade of society: the slums. For Eun-gyo and Mu-jae, financial difficulty is not the only issue they face. People often look down on them and pass demeaning remarks, simply because they come from low socioeconomic background. Not only that, others assume that they are incapable, uneducated, and unable to judge what is right or wrong. These prejudices trap Eun-gyo and Mu-jae into an abysmal pit of self-doubt and despair; two characters slowly recede deeper into the “shadows,” becoming the unseen members of society. However, they do not remain in the dark forever. They struggle to overcome the financial and social burdens weighing down on them. Slowly but surely, they desperately grasp their ways out from the shadowy abyss and find a gleam of hope. They continuously fight to overcome their prejudices and obstacles. Nearly the end of the book, it quotes “We slowly walked on, alternately engulfed in darkness and exposed by light,” suggesting that their future does not seem to end in a darkness but even the slightest light of hope exists to change their future. The book teaches the readers that even in the harshest of circumstances, there is always hope and people can always make small changes with their will power.
In fact, the novel realistically depicts lives of people in slums, who are often disregarded by the society. Such dark side of the story is an integral part of the world we live in, which is why we shouldn’t shun away from it. Rather than ignoring the unwanted harsh truth, we need to go out and bring light into the shadows.
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