Historically, culture has set expectations that are misogynistic toward women. Han Kang recounts Yeong-tale hye’s as told by her husband, sister, and brother-in-law. She became a vegetarian after “having a fantasy,” which enrages her husband and provokes abuse from her father, who pressures her to eat meat (Han part 1). Yeong-brother-in-law hye’s is obsessed with her and shares his feelings artistically. She eventually has a psychiatric illness, and her sister supports her even though she faces shame. This paper examines the book’s readers’ impressions, aggression, conformity, sculpture, and relationships. The book is pragmatic in bringing out the real characters of people in the play. Unlike most stories, Han Kang shows both the good and bad sides of each person in the narrative, which is the reality with human beings. Thus, the reader is not left liking or disliking one character more than any other. The story is creative in its approach to having three people in Yeong-hye’s life telling the same story from different points of view.
A society where mental disorders are often denied or dismissed is painted in the novel. Yeong-hye descends into a mental disorder, but she does not acknowledge it. The stigma associated with mental illnesses is also evident in the absence of most of Yeong-hye’s family members, including her husband. Notably, it is only her sister that stays with her through her illness reminding her of childhood memories. The societal outlook always delays the time taken by a patient to seek professional help. The permanence in blood relations is also portrayed where other relationships broke except that of the two sisters. Despite Yeong-hye’s lustful involvement with her sister’s husband and the confrontation that followed, In-hye supported her sibling through her hospitalization. Marital relationships dissolved eventually, but sibling love surpassed adversities.
Women often fall victim to the suffocation of standards set by a society which uses all means to silence their desires. It is surprising that Yeong-hye’s decision to become a vegetarian was not respected by members of her own family since they expected her to eat meat as usual. Her husband’s support was limited by his outlook that women and their desires were insignificant. Notably, a wife’s journey to self-discovery resulted in her family falling apart. Violence against women is evident in Yeong-hye’s act of forcing her to eat meat. That portrays the realities in societies where women pay a high price for being themselves and refusing to conform. In the book, Yeong-hye takes a courageous step to becoming a vegetarian and is not shaken by her husband’s decision to file for divorce, which inspires her sister to be bold enough to separate from her husband. Yeong-hye broke free and said that she is “not an animal anymore” as she was beyond conformity (Han part 3).
Art has been employed to bring out and uphold the beauty of women’s sexuality. Despite Mr. Cheong’s displeasure in his wife’s failure to cover up her nipples, Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law artistic perspective appreciates the beauty of the tattoo on the buttock. The relationship between Yeong-hye and her brother-in-law broke the rules that society has always placed regarding romantic interactions. Art also served as a medium of expression as seen in In-hye’s husband and her erotic obsession with Yeong-hye after his vision showed him an “image of a man and woman” (Han part 2).
The pragmatism in Han Kang is unique in maintaining a balance in the readers’ perspective towards each character. The women in the book have demonstrated courage in abandoning the standards society placed on them to embark on a journey towards finding their true self. Art as an expression and stigmatization on mentally ill patients is also evident.
Han, Kang, Deborah Smith, and Kang Han. The Vegetarian: A Novel. , 2016. Print