There is hardly anything more difficult for a child than trying to adjust to the specifics of an adult world. Ruled by what seems from a child’s perspective shockingly insane principles, the universe of the grown-up people is far too absurd to embrace and far too exciting to stay away from.
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Touching upon the problem of children trying to comply with the rules set by adults and for adults, as well as addressing the problem of growing pains, Mun-Yol Yi in his Our Twisted Hero, as well as Mo Yan in his Pow!, considers the chances of a child to survive in the world of adults.
Although the two authors create completely different universes, with colorful and unique characters and different plotlines, there is still a tangible similarity in which children portray adult world and consider moral and ethical dilemmas that they encounter on their way.
Whenever both authors start taking about the childhood experiences of their characters, they would always mention the obstacles that these characters were forced to fight in order to become a part of the adult society.
In many cases, the lead characters will have to face injustice; interpreting it as a part of growing up, the authors make their leads accept the fact that they will have to fight their way to the top.
Another peculiar issue regarding the lessons that both leading characters learn about the adult world concerns morality in the community.
As the reader sees the adult world through the lens of a small child, all the threats of this new and potentially dangerous environment come out in full blue, literally making the reader shudder.
However, by far the most cringe inducing element of the adult world reality appears to be the lack of justice, which the leading characters in both novels often become witnesses for and even victims of: “Suddenly, my nose began to sting and tears rolled around my eyes. It wasn’t completely clear to me then, but I suppose I was tasting the sorrow of the ostracized, the bitter loneliness that goes with alienation”1.
Among the most graphic examples of Han facing injustice, the moment at which he realizes that he actually has enemies, whom he did nothing to and who are nevertheless hate him, Eom being one of those people.
Even though in the end, the two characters finally reconcile, it is still clear that the thought of having a person who nurtures hatred against him comes as a huge and unpleasant revelation to Han.
While in Our Twisted Hero, the ethical issues seem rather obvious, in Pow!, the conflict between the moral code of the protagonist and the principles and values that the society is trying to foist on him, is described in a much more subtle manner.
By creating a realm of hallucinatory realism, Mo Yan blurs the line between dreams and reality, therefore, questioning the very essence of being.
Thus, the ethical issues come as more subtle, yet nonetheless demanding answers. Mo Yan poses such questions as where the line between the socially acceptable and the socially inacceptable must be drawn.
Of all the details that prevent the readers to relate the characters from one book to the characters from another one, the difference in pacing should be mentioned first.
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It is remarkable that Yi immediately sets the stage for the young character to explore the world and cognize reality; even though the idea of starting a novel in a flashback does seem a little weird, the payoff, which the readers experience as they watch the reader’s universe collide with the harsh adult reality, is well worth the risks that the author takes with his well-trodden approach.
Yan, on the contrary, decides to set his novel in the realm of the present-day world, and reveals the fact that his protagonist is mostly going to be shown as a child throughout the entire novel only a while after the readers start relate to the Monk, Yan’s lead character.
While the given differences do not affect the way in which the readers relate to the protagonist, it does change the audience’s vision of the leads as children.
Yan’s Monk is capable of evaluating the childhood experience of his vis-a-vis in a calm and reserved manner, which reduces the shock value for the reader as the latter finds out about the negligence that the leading character experienced in his relationships with his father: “He had forgotten I ever existed”2.
Yi, on the contrary, throws the reader into the realm of a little kid, the realm, which is about to collide with the world of adults and suffer severe damage in the process.
At the end of the day, the lessons that the audience learns from both novels, are quite obvious.
However, these lessons have still been introduced in a very clever way; both authors could have simply gone into creating a dram displaying the faults of society as they are seen through the eyes of children.
Instead, both authors manage to provide a rather fair account of the rights and wrongs of the society, with the adult versions of their leading characters summarizing the key points that both authors make.
Han defeating Eom at the end of Our Twisted Hero serves as a cautionary tale about being irresponsible about one’s power, while the ending of the Pow! seems quite random, much like the novel itself.
As for the Pow!, its lessons seem to have stuck in the thicket of magical realism, and the ending of the novel literally dissolves in the final chapter.
Regardless of the complexity of the plot, however, Pow! Still offers an important lesson to consider – it shows the perils of escapism, which children usually resort to when bumping into the harshness of the real world.
While in Pow!, the lesson might be too on the nose, it is still admirable that the author spends so much time on making his character three-dimensional, and his childhood experience relatable for the readers.
Though the universes created in each of the novels differ strikingly from each other in terms of the time, setting, characters and plot, they still have the same conflict of children facing the disturbingly unpleasant reality of the adult world.
Both novels shed the light on how lonely it is to be a child, and what effort it takes to come out of one’s shell in order to explore the world and only get disappointed in the process.
Showing that children actually need parental guidance in order to cognize the world around them and be able to retain their optimistic attitude without turning into cynics, both authors make it clear that for a child thrown into the adult world and left completely on his or her own, life becomes a fight for survival.
Very few people come out of this fight safe; for the most part, the lessons learned in the process leave the battle scars that will not go away any time soon.
Yan, Mo. Pow! New York, NY: Seagull Publications. 2012.
Yi, Mun-Yol. Our Twisted Hero. New York City, NY: Hyperion East. 2001.
- Mun-Yol Yi, Our Twisted Hero, (New York City, NY: Hyperion East. 2001), 511..
- Mo Yan, Pow!, (New York, NY: Seagull Publications. 2012), 17.