In the text ‘Nothing to Envy’ written by Barbara Demick, the characters we respond to with both suffering and triumph are Mi-Ran, Dr Kim and Mrs Song. Through multiple events we are shown the strength these characters have over the North Korean regime that had heavy influences on huge parts of their lives. Relationships, jobs, living states, schooling were all effected by the dictatorship, restricting them from perusing life they way they wanted.
Mi-ran is the first character we are introduced to in the non fiction text and the first of the defectors that were interviewed. She was introduced as a 12 year old who was madly in love with a boy slightly older than her Jun-Sang. Her relationship of many years was suppressed by the rules within North Korea. Emotionally she was being suppressed of her feelings towards Jun-Sang. Unfortunately Mi-ran’s family’s “song bun” was low. They were of lower class then Jun-Sang’s family. From this Mi-ran was cut off from the best schools and the best jobs and this was because her father was a prisoner of war. Mi-ran was know as “tainted blood”. This also meant Mi-rans siblings were now of tainted blood also. They couldn’t move up the social system. “Mi-ran was unaware of the catastrophe that had be fallen upon her even before she was born” … “they would be barred from the best schools and the best jobs”. This hindered steps in Mi-rans life and to the reader we feel sympathy for her as she didn’t bring this upon herself she was effected by her father. For many years Mi-ran grew up under the heavy control of the North Korean regime. However this character also shows triumph within the text. Mi-Ran becomes a teacher. From her low “songbun” this was thought to be impossible, she couldn’t get such a good job because of her ranking. This was a great breakthrough for Mi-Ran as she aspired to becoming a teacher when growing up and now was a successful teacher in a kindergarten. “Mi-ran hit the books, begged her mother to relieve her of her house hold chorus to study” … ‘to her great surprise she was accepted into teachers collage.” This showing the dedication she put into becoming a teacher all the while knowing she was of low social status and then the tremendous success she gained from getting accepted into the collage.
With times changing Mi-ran then lost many of her students due to starvation across North Korea. We feel and immense amount of suffering for Mi-ran during this time as she was so caring a dedicated to her students who started not showing up to school. “what happened to those children? Mi-ran didn’t pry too deeply for fear of the answer she didn’t want to hear.” This makes us feel sympathy for Mi-ran this tragic event effects her personally to an extent where she feels she has to leave North Korea to escape her pain. Following this, later on in the book the huge triumph for Mi-Ran was finally defecting out of North Korea and starting a new life. After her father got sick and passed away in 1997 Mi-ran also defeated. Throughout her experience Mi-rans strong will power pushed her to beat the system and escape. With many more people stuck and trapped in North Korea this visual text helps us to understand the lives these sort of people lived in North Korea before they were able to defect to a better life.
A patriotic young doctor in Chongin, Doctor Kim, was introduced to us as a very dedicated, true believer of the North Korean regime. ” I would have donated my heart if the party told me. I was that patriotic”. She worked in a hospital where she was one of the youngest and smallest doctors there , she was very passionate about her job. Throughout the text we respond with sympathy to this character though both her suffering and her triumphs. Dr Kims suffering comes from her work when she becomes aware that she is being watched by a national security agent, because her father. Mi-rans father is of Chinese decent and after a horrible life in China defected to North Korea in the 1960s and because of this the party had suspicions about Dr. Kim, afraid she would defect to China. During her time doing volunteer work at the hospital Dr Kim came across a file with her name on it, with her high curiosity she opened it and read it. To her dis belief, Dr. Kim discovered that her father was from China and still had relatives there. “It had to be a mistake, she told herself.” From this “her suspicions were confirmed about two years later when she received a surprise visit at the hospital from a national security agent.” Dr. Kim felt betrayed and lied to after this discovery and as a reader we feel sympathy for her as her whole life she had no idea of her father and her Chinese relatives. Dr. Kim, being a doctor also lost multiple people patients and close patients including children to her during the shortage of food in North Korea. Food was getting so scarce she would have to go and gather her own plants from fields after work. Her patients would bribe her with small portions of food but even though she was starving she would never accept them, her weight dropped below 80 pounds, she had no energy and she could barely get up some mornings. “Her life in North Korea was miserable. Her ex husband had married soon after their divorce. Her six year old son with her former in laws… could only visit her son on the occasional weekend.” Dr Kim suffered for a long time in multiple ways before finally defecting. We feel sympathy for Dr Kim through her triumph of leaving North Korea. She has suffered tremendously though her job and her family and the food crisis in North Korea. A quote from the visual text “dogs in China ate better then doctors in North Korea” makes us as a reader understand the lack of the resources put into making sure everyone is feed well under the dictatorship in North Korea. It makes people think about the say that we as individuals to this day should put into our own government systems. Becoming politicly involved is very important for people today, living in a democratic country as an 18 year old I have right to vote for my leader, which i think is a powerful move that all people should take unlike the citizens of North Korea trapped by their government.
“On Wednesday mornings, she had to report to work early for mandatory meetings of the Socialist Womens Foundation. Friday nights she stayed especially late for self criticism…Mrs Song believed everything she said. All those years of sleep deprivation, all those lectures, self criticisms- the very same tools used in brain washing or interrogations- had wiped out any possibility of resistance.” This was the life of Mrs Song and this quote shows the power the system had over Mrs Song. Mr Song is a true believer of the regime she had dedicated her whole life to the regime and the ways of the dictatorship and she idolised Kim Il Sung with the up most respect for him. The success in Mr Songs eyes was the fact she was completely content and proud to live in North Korea and follow the rules and laws of the dictatorship. However later throughout this visual text we see Mrs Song suffer through horrible times. Mrs Song’s biggest suffering, alike most other characters in this visual text, was the food shortage. The lack of ingredients available meant the she was providing food with no taste no appealing feature at all and no nutritional value to herself and her family. So, “she decided to buy rice down the coast where it was cheaper, and carry it up by train.” This was when tragedy stuck though. On the train ride back the train crashed killing thousands and causing Mrs Song to loose all the rice she spent every last cent on. This event was a huge suffering for Mrs Song in which we respond with huge sympathy as she put all her money into investing into rice in hopes to sell it but then was left with absolutely nothing. With everyone dying around her during this time and the deaths of her family Mrs Song escaped from North Korea. A response to control/manipulation is to free the mind, something that most people struggle with. ‘A mind that knows itself knows how to be free and knows when it is being manipulated.’ It is important to think for ourselves and detach from reality sometimes, to take a step back and reflect on how you are living and if you’re happy and free, if you are truely you. From this as a reader you hope to take away how easy it is to become manipulated and how it is possible to get out of a controlled state and free your own mind.
Barbara Demick used the characters Mi-ran, Dr Kim and Mrs Song to make us as readers fell sympathy for them through their triumphs and their suffering. Ultimately from this we learn that dictators use techniques and ways to trap, manipulate and control people. In response to this it has made me aware of dictatorship behaviour and has made me value living in a democratic country. From Barbara Demick’s interviews with these defectors she was able to express the nature of dictatorship throughout the stories of the lives of these people. It has given me an understanding of the techniques dictators use upon citizen of their country. Where they use propaganda and control through media, distractions to keep people busy so they wont ask questions, fear and lies, corporative slavery and patriotism. The Kim leaders are valued highly by North Koreans because these techniques are enforced highly upon the people that they are either trapped and cant get out or believe what they are doing and what their country is doing is for the best of the people, the country and the world.