Veggie (415)

The following paragraphs are responses to the prompt:

The Vegetarian is mainly about the consumption and violence of the earth by humans and Yeong-Hye’s quest to avoid it at all costs, even if it means her demise. You need to consume to survive whether it’s trees for your home, cows for meat, and vegetables for your salad. The Vegetarian plays on the inability to comprehend the unquenchable thirst of humans and to ultimately remove one’s self from the process, but even as consumers, we need to benefit from it to survive day to day. Yeong-Hye decides to stop eating meat, which to the dismay of her husband, and her family, sets forth a motion to anger or offend those close to her; indirectly from her decision. Yeong-Hye suddenly starts eating less and less the more frequent the nightmares of blood and animal violence she dreams appear. Her decision is her own, but are they really if her social circle disapproves of it by forcing her to eat? Like humans who live on this planet, we are coaxed to consume outside of our means as a planet. Humans are forcing others to consume more in the quest for monetary self-worth, but how we break this cycle without breaking ourselves?

The Vegetarian claims that consumption is an act of violence. Consuming food is the result of killing another living creature. This is notable in when Yeong-hye’s father is dragging the dog behind the car, “[o]nce it has gone five laps, the dog is frothing at the mouth. Bloth drips from its throat, which is being chocked with the rope. Constantly groaning through its damaged throat, the dog is dragged along the ground.” (49). Then the family eats the dog, telling Yeong-hye that eating the dog will heal her dog bite faster. This dream shows the brutality that eating meat has, it causes Yeong-hye to become a Vegetarian. However, she takes it a step further when she no longer eats anything at all. Plants are also living and part of the earth, Yeong-hye wants to not harm anything but transform into a tree which does not consume life to survive. Since humans cannot sustain themselves the way that plants do, Yeong-hye is starving herself to death. This is also violent, to slowly kill oneself. People have to consume other living things or the alternative is let themself die. Being human means that you indirectly kill other lifeforms to sustain yourself.

 

Han Kang’s novella The Vegetarian, is an appeal to our humanity. The protagonist, Yeong-hye, is a mouthpiece for a wider social commentary on consumption and its consequences on human nature, and nature itself. While Yeong-hye is a neutral force willing her existence to dissolve, other characters lack humanity, commit violent acts, and are overwhelmed by their desires. These themes are ostensibly Gothic but are not immediately recognisable in The Vegetarian – perhaps its contemporary Korean setting does not lend itself to the antiquated and crumbling buildings found so readily in Gothic literature. Its characters also lack the stereotypical garishness of tyrannical figures. Nonetheless, Kang creates tyrants of another, more sinister kind. The male characters are presented as villains of suburban life, raping and cheating on their wives, and transforming the banality of domesticity into an environment which is increasingly oppressive. Kang’s distortion of domesticity is a critique of patriarchal hierarchy, and the perversity of Yeong-hye’s vegetarianism unveils some uncomfortable truths about the entanglement of family dynamics, and malevolent underbelly of domestic life. Gradually, the connections between violence, misplaced lust, and desire work to clarify observations on wider social consumer contexts i.e. capitalism. Kang’s critique becomes apparent in the actions of her characters and in the violence of her writing. In fact, in the beginning of the novella, Yeong-hye literally consumes violence. Her childhood dog is violently slain and subsequently devoured that same night, ‘The saying goes that for a wound caused by a dog bite to heal you have to eat that same dog, and I did scoop up a mouthful for myself. No, in fact I ate an entire bowlful with rice,” (PG 49, paragraph 4). Flesh is utilised as a motif to explain attitudes of obsession and barbarism – namely, the fascination with Yeong-hye’s Mongolian mark on the part of her brother-in-law, as well as grisly nightmare sequences punctuated with blood and gore. Kang conflates violence and desire to create a neo-Gothic landscape which allows The Vegetarian to work as an ad-hoc allegory for the brutality of contemporary capitalism.

 

There is violence attached to consumerism since we depend on violence to survive: we need to kill something in order to get something. In The Vegetarian, Yeong-Hye is trying to take control of her own life by cutting off meat from her diet, but her family does not respect her values. Though Yeong-Hye initially decided to become a vegetarian to stop her bloody, nightmarish dreams, she eventually gave up eating all types of animals (meat & fish).  Yeong-hye’s desire to get away from the violence that comes with consuming animals actually brought more violence within her own family. Her father has seen massive forms of violence unleashed on his own country since he was a part of the Vietnam War; this is why it is not surprising that he resorted to violence in order to get Yeong-hye to start eating meat again. Yeong-hye’s desire to stop consuming meat led to her husband divorcing her, her parents cutting her off and her sister committing her into a mental institution. Since consumerism is at the core of Capitalism, it is basically impossible for you to control your own life since there are several forces pushing you into a certain direction. Yeong-hye was not able to fully control her own life because her family was constantly making her decisions for her and was constantly pressuring her to conform back to her normal ways of eating meat like everyone else. Yeong-hye’s desire to remove herself from the violence of consuming animals is an allegory for contemporary consumerism since she refused to consume. In her decision to stop consuming meat she is essentially killing herself since she stops eating at all. Consumerism controls every aspect of an individual’s life and it is virtually impossible to get away from it, which is why Yeong-hye is having all these problems with her family. There is violence in everyday life and as Yeong-hye tried to remove herself from that violence she was denying her desires to eat anything. In giving up her desires, she stopped consuming and started withering away to skin and bones.

 

The novel “The Vegitarian” can serve as an ad hoc allegory for the forces characterizing contermporary capitalism because Yeong-he changes the structure of her life and her family’s when she stops eating meat. The horrifying dreams she had (the reason she stopped consuming meat) could symbolize democratic political action in the capitalist structure because it leads to Yeong-he resenting meat and causing terrible events. When Mr. Cheong divorces Yeong-he, this produced a dramatic effect on the value of social status. He did not want to stay married to a woman who isolated herself from others and followed an unordinary way of living, fearing he would be looked down upon society. In my opinion, I think the novel only borrowed some gothic material. “The Vegetarian” does not surround main themes such as supernatural beings or medieval mysteries, but more so focuses on anti-Christian elements like rape, adultery, and suicide.

 

In Han Kang’s novel, The Vegetarian, many themes are brought into view but the two most prominent were consumption and violence. Consumption and violence are relevant in the novel because meat- eating is an allegory for violence and the majority of the novel revolves around this idea. In order for peoples ‘meat’ needs to be satisfied, thousands of animals have to die.This is considered violent because there is no humane way to kill something/someone. Throughout the novel, protagonist Yeong Hye challenges the lack of agency she has over her own body that the meat- eating, antagonistic society helped create. Consumption and violence are once again evident when Yeong Hye’s father tried to force a piece of sweet and sour pork into his own daughter’s mouth and she sliced her own wrist because of it. To prove a point. Not to mention that he had to strike her in the face to get her to open her mouth. Violence can also be viewed in the sense of expected behavior and societal expectations. I believe the text has gothic material such as the blood and the alienation of the protagonist (Yeong-Hye).

 

The Vegetarian by Han Kang  shows the themes of violence and consumption being necessary for survival. True, the way that these themes are illustrated are through extremes as someone does not necessarily need to eat meat to survive. In the end, the vegetarian character in the story does die but because she refuses to consume anything at all. The consumption of meat, the obedience to elders and husband, the taboo of fantasizing over the sister in law are all socially constructed norms of do’s and dont’s. In The Vegetarian, those who choose to go against the norms end up facing dire consequences. Those that follow the norms are able to go on with their lives but it is a life that is pretty bleak and nonconsequential. But these people rather live that way than to break a norm. Norms could be an allegory for consumption. This story illustrates how if one does not follow the norms they do not survive, literally and figuratively. The point is that this novel ultimately shows how capitalism(with the allegory of norms as consumption of meat aka modern goods) has been embedded into the social culture that forces people to go with the norms than against so as to not be shunned even if it means living a seemingly non-meaningful life.

 

Food and violence go hand in hand together in “The Vegetarian “  for example The section where Yeong-Hye father brutally kills the dog that bites her, he then serves it in a soup for dinner that same night(p.47). Then after Yeong-Hye becomes vegetarian her father forcefully tries to feed her pork. Slapping her in the process.

Could “ The Vegetarian”  be the name of the book because Yeong-Hye becomes “ Vegetable” like. Detaching herself from humanity?

 

The Vegetarian arguably commentates on the consumption and violence in contemporary capitalism through Yeong-hye’s obsession with refusing to eat. Yeong-hye, who witnessed much violence in her youth and had long suffered through beatings by her father, first gives up eating meat then gives up eating at all. It’s possible to see that eating, literally consuming, is a stand-in for consumption of material goods. Under this interpretation, Yeong-hye’s refusal to eat could be seen as refusing to participate in contemporary capitalism’s consumerism. Just as animals must be killed to produce meat, a lot of people must suffer in order for capitalism to provide its material goods. This angle is reinforced by Yeong-hye’s reoccurring dreams that drive her to give up meat. In those dreams, she was surrounded by meat and blood and saw herself bringing violence onto others. That is, Yeong-hye seems to be making a connection between meat and violence and believes that cutting herself off from meat is the only way to stop that violence.

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