DATA INSPIRED

[Classic] #44. Jo Se-hee’s “A Small Ball Shot by a Dwarf”

Jo Se-hee’s “A Small Ball Shot by a Dwarf” is a collection of interconnected stories depicting the lives of marginalized workers and the poor in 1970s South Korea. Through various characters, the novel critiques social inequality and oppression. Key stories include “Mechanical City,” “The Wage of the Silver River Family,” and “God’s Mistake.” The novel aligns with Karl Marx’s theory of alienated labor and emphasizes the need for human dignity and social justice.

Author Introduction

Jo Se-hee (1942~) is a South Korean writer known for his works that expose the lives of marginalized workers and the poor in the 1970s. Born in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi-do, he graduated from Sorabol College of Arts and Kyung Hee University. Jo made his literary debut in 1965 and gained prominence in the mid-1970s with his “Dwarf” series, including “A Small Ball Shot by a Dwarf,” for which he won the 1979 Dong-in Literary Award.

Background of the Book

2.1 Author’s Consciousness

Jo Se-hee was inspired by his experiences in redevelopment areas, where he witnessed the struggles of evicted tenants. He aimed to critique the harsh social realities through a realistic yet artistically refined narrative.

2.2 Social Background of the 1970s

Rapid industrialization under military regimes led to significant economic growth but also exacerbated political repression and economic inequality, sparking democratization movements and labor conflicts.

2.3 Jeon Tae-il’s Self-Immolation Incident

In 1970, labor activist Jeon Tae-il’s self-immolation in protest of poor working conditions highlighted the struggles of the working class and inspired Jo Se-hee’s depiction of the hardships faced by ordinary citizens in his novel.

Summary of the Book

3.1 Structure

“A Small Ball Shot by a Dwarf” is a collection of 12 interconnected short stories, depicting the lives of various social classes, including workers, the middle class, and capitalists. Key stories include “Mechanical City,” “The Wage of the Silver River Family,” “God’s Mistake,” and “Mr. Klein’s Disease.”

3.2 Character Analysis

The stories feature characters from different social strata, such as the dwarf’s family representing workers, Shin-ae representing the middle class, and Yoon-ho from the Silver River Group representing capitalists.

3.3 Summary of Key Stories
  • Mechanical City: Yoon-ho visits the dwarf’s neighborhood and learns about the harsh conditions faced by workers. Young-soo, the dwarf’s eldest son, plans to kill the Silver River Group’s manager to avenge the workers’ suffering.
  • The Wage of the Silver River Family: Young-soo works at Silver River Automobile but faces unjust treatment. He eventually moves to Silver River Textile, where the harsh working conditions continue.
  • God’s Mistake: Workers face accidents and layoffs. Young-soo reflects on his father’s belief in punishing those who lack love.
  • Mr. Klein’s Disease: Young-soo participates in labor union activities and learns about the importance of workers’ rights.

“A Small Ball Shot by a Dwarf” and Karl Marx

Jo Se-hee’s depiction of the workers’ struggles aligns with Karl Marx’s theory of alienated labor, which includes alienation from the product of labor, the process of labor, the species-essence of humans, and other humans.

  • Alienation from the Product: Workers do not own the products of their labor, leading to economic deprivation.
  • Alienation from the Process: Workers are reduced to mere components in the production process, losing autonomy.
  • Alienation from Species-Essence: Creative labor is restricted, reducing work to a means of survival.
  • Alienation from Other Humans: Workers are isolated from capitalists and other social classes.

Reflections

“A Small Ball Shot by a Dwarf” vividly portrays the suffering and reality of marginalized people, critiquing social inequality and oppression. It emphasizes the need for human dignity and collective struggle for a just society. The novel encourages readers to reflect on the structural issues that perpetuate social exclusion and inequality.

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