Hwang Sun-wŏn’s short story “Shower”

By far the most famous short story in Korean literature is Shower (소나기 Sonagi, 1952) written by Hwang Sun-wŏn (1915-2000).
For many Koreans it is the most representative story for portraying the sensibilities that are unique to Korean culture.
All schoolchildren are raised with this story since it has been part of the required curriculum for a long time.
It is a story of two young people on the verge of falling in love. (the story can be read here)

The story begins as the protagonist boy spies on the great-granddaughter of Mr. Yoon, who is sitting on a stepping stone in a stream playing with the water.
She is scooping up a handful of water to try to grasp her face reflected in the water. Suddenly she picks up a pebble, turns around and throws it to the boy shouting ” You fool!”.
The next day the boy returns to the stream but the girl is not there. From that day on he develops the habit of rubbing the pebble that was thrown at him.
One day it is the boy who is sitting on the stepping stone trying to catch his own reflection in the water. As he is doing so, he sees the reflection of the girl in the water.
Embarrassed, he runs away, but trips over a stepping stone.

On a saturday the boy and the girl meet again and she shows him a “silk clam”. From now on they become good friends, running around the countryside playing with scarecrows in the field and a calf. After being reprimanded by the owner of the calf they suddenly find themselves in a severe shower. They seek shelter in an old lookout, but since the rain keeps pooring in, they take shelter in a haystack. After the rain stops the boy carries her on his back, in order to cross a ditch.

After this day, the boy keeps coming to the stream, but the girl is not there. After a long time, the girl appears to tell him that she has been ill ever since she got a cold in the rain and that she is still not feeling any better. She also shows him the dress that she wore that day, which was stained by the water from the ditch.
She gives him some dates that she took from her family’s ancestoral worship ceremony that day and leaves. In return the boy sneaks into a walnut grove that same evening to give her some walnuts. As he returns and is lying on the bed, he overhears his father speaking to his mother that the Yoon family’s fortune has declined and that the girl has died. He also mentions that she must have been an extraordinary girl, because she said she wanted to be buried in the same clothes she was wearing that day.

Hwang Sun-won

Hwang Sun-won

This sweet but sad story about the budding love between the boy and the girl has become a popular topic for novelists and movie directors alike. That the story remains to be popular can be seen in the many cartoons and movies that have been made over the years. Also Hwang Sun-wŏn rightfully got his own museum (황순원문학촌) recently which is called the Sonagi Village and is located in Yangp’yŏng. Established in 2009, the museum organizes all sorts of events to keep promoting Hwang Sun-wŏn’s legacy with a Festival in his name and even a Hang Sun-wŏn Sonagi Marathon. (A small item about the museum can be viewed here. Beware! Don’t fall asleep because of the narrators entertaining voice while watching!)

One of the funnier references to Shower is undoubtably the short parody that was inserted in the movie My Sassy Girl (2001). The girl being a bit ‘weird’ is dreaming of becoming a scriptwriter and therefore let’s her boyfriend read her scripts to comment on them. Not happy with the ending of her movie, he explains to her that the ending should be more romantic. He is using Hwang Sun-won’s Shower as the example that set the norm for these type of endings, to which she replies that actually Hwang Sun-won’s ending should have been different. How different? Judge for yourself.

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2 Responses to Hwang Sun-wŏn’s short story “Shower”

  1. LOL – as an avid reader of translated Korean Fiction, I have to say I found Sonagi boring and a poor choice for translation (no genre in English, no ending to speak of, too subtle, etc). Now, Obaltan, which you talk about above, that’s a good one!

  2. jeromedewit says:

    Yes, I know what you mean. I still remember reading the story in our class. Everyone was completely surprised by the sudden ending (including me). What I like about the story is its delicate and subtle depiction of the characters’ feelings and the descriptions of nature. However, I agree that the imagery used in the story is very particular to Korean culture and makes it boring for foreign readers.

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