The Boozer by Ch’oe Inhon A Brief Commentary on the Meaning, Societal Relevance, and Use of Subtlety in Ch’oe Inhon’s The Boozer “Whenever a shot of that rotgut washed the inside of his everinsatiable mouth he knew just how much more dense his life was going to get” (Ch’oe, 109).
Ch’oe Inho’s The Boozer offers a dismal glimpse into the life of the lower classes during the period of Korean modernization. Although The Boozer was written in the 1960s, the story does not provide an allegorical account of particular events during the authoritarian rule of Park Chung Hee. Rather, Ch’oe uses the setting of a working class community to convey the suffering of an orphan boy over the loss of his parents during one of his escapades into the tavern life of the town.
In addition, Ch’oe withholds from the reader the most important piece of information, that the boy indeed has no living parents, until the end of the story. Through a clever manipulation of information, The Boozer accomplishes the latter task, while giving us a vivid sense of the boy’s traumatic memory of his parents’ deaths and of the desolate life of the working class community. In the first few pages of the story, we are lead to believe that the boy is looking for his father to call him home to the bedside of his dying wife. The boy informs the drinkers in the tavern that he has seen his mother’s condition worsen and that she has sent him to get her husband.But even before this, Ch’oe has already dropped a subtle hint that the father is gone. Here is how the boy describes his father: “Why, you’d know him! He has a great big mole over one eye.
He always smelled like onions, and he always went around with cloves of garlic in his back pocket. And, they said he always cried when he drank.” (104) The boy starts his description in the present tense and shifts to the past tense as he recounts details about his father’s habits. This passage alone casts the first shadow of doubt on the “living” status of the father.In particular, the phrase “they said he…” suggests that the boy experienced his father’s death at an early age and knows him partly from reputation.
This use of the past tense may be too subtle to notice upon a first reading and even the impression that the father may be long gone is erased as the boy later speaks about his father in the present tense. There are numerous other indicators that mislead us into believing the authenticity of the boy’s mission. For example, the boy is quite determined in his mission.
“I’ll look all night… If I can just find my father, everything will be okay My father’s different from you people.Father may be a boozer, but there’s nothing he can’t do if he sets his mind to it. You know, once he took copper and made it into gold.
Gold!” (105). In this passage we also encounter the boy’s genuine admiration for his father and the security the thought of his father provides, as if the latter were alive and well, waiting for his son to find him. In addition, he shows concern about his father’s sobriety, so that the latter can face the serious moment of his wife’s death in full possession of his faculties.There is one moment where it appears that the father may have already returned to his wife and, after her death, gone back out to drink: “Your father left, kid.
Said he was going to the widow’s tavern” (107). The inconsistency here is that the boy is unperturbed by the barmaid’s usage of the word “widow.” But, given his drunken state, we may forgive the boy for overlooking this. Later, as the boy continues wandering through the town, we are informed that “He knew well where it was he was going to. He had never forgotten this route, no matter how drunk he got” (112).This is the first direct hint that the boy’s actions are not spontaneous attempts to find his father but a part of a well-established routine that he follows after a day of drinking. But the following sentence reverts the reader’s attention to the search for the father: “What could Father be doing while Mother is heading to her death?” (112).
By the end of the story, and after many subtle hints and inconsistencies, we are left with the uncomfortable thought that we have missed something. It is past the taverns’ closing time when the boy visits his aunt. Why has he not found his father? Was he really looking for him? Why hasn’t he returned to his home, to his dying mother? It is not until the end that we are given an obvious hint that something in the boy’s story is wrong. When he visits his aunt, the boy says “Auntie.Please don’t die before I grow up. Grit your teeth and bear it.” Only at this point are we given a hint that the boy has survived the death of his family members, or perhaps even his friends, that maybe his aunt is the only living relative he has left. His parents are gone, his siblings are gone, lost, or nonexistent.
As far as we can tell, the boy has no close ties with any relative because even his aunt treats him more like a pest which must be disposed of as soon as possible, and as the boy leaves her house she bids him “Good-bye. And don’t come back!” (114). Prior to this incident, Ch’oe makes no obvious references to the loss of the boy’s parents.A few lines later, we find out that the boy is returning to his orphanage.
The search for the father was just a faade. With this in mind, a closer reading of The Boozer reveals that the boy’s desperate search for his father is a manifestation of the boy’s psychological trauma caused by the untimely deaths of his parents. The boy has a vivid memory of his mother’s death, of her bloody vomiting (105).
In all likelihood, this was followed by a desperate attempt to resolve his psychological …