This study aims to look into the features and characteristics of modernity of Mansejeon by analyzing the ideological structure of the work, focusing on the colonial state of Korea. Realizing modernity under colonial rule is destined to involve problems. In this regard, it is necessary to explore in detail, with the analysis of the ideological structure, the manifestations of modernity as well as the driving force behind modernization in a realism-oriented text.
Korea was annexed by Japan, which belongs to the same cultural region as hers, and had to actively receive Western modernity to fight against the oppressors. Because of this unique process of accommodation, modernity in Korea acquired universality while its negative aspects were ignored. But at the same time, modernity formed part of the ideological basis of the Japanese imperialism. In this study, this problematic modernity is defined as colonial modernity, and serves as the starting point of discussion.
Mansejeon is a first-person story, focusing on the psychology of the protagonist. The fact that the awakening of the individual is set as the solution to the colonial state of Chosun shows that the author intended to enlighten the readers by exposing the inner world of Lee, leading them to modernization. Therefore, Lee cannot but be a thoroughly modern and rational character, armed with liberal views towards education and marriage; trust to objectivity and science; and realization of social and class identity.
First, to Lee, the death of his wife has caused a deficiency and he wants to get rid of it. The prime solver-candidate is Jung-ja, the Japanese woman. But he cannot love the Japanese lady because he sees human relations through the prism of power. He pursues liberal and horizontal relations but cannot get rid of the yoke of hierarchical mentality. Namely, his modernity as an individual is trapped in the reality of Chosun, a colony.
Lee turns to nationalism because of the maltreatment of the Japanese immigration officers when leaving Chosun. But his nationalism was mainly emotional and individual, rather than ideologically founded. After returning to Chosun, he is not able to feel identity to his compatriots who, in his eyes, are filled with pre-modern and non-enlightened thoughts. Here, his rootless nationalism collapses, leaving only modernity. Lee was able to see only greed and stupidity among Koreans and as a result, he discovers only the impossibility of enlightenment. From this point, his modernity reinforces the distorted image of Chosun created by the Japanese, echoing the rational of the oppressors.
In conclusion, Mansejeon tries to discuss the background of the March 1 independence movement by perceiving it as a manifestation of modernity and nationalism, but failed. It is because the author did not realize the fact that modernity did not conflict with imperialism, in addition to failing to see the power of the general public, who were the true heroes of the movement. The reason for his failure is that the author did not see the colonialism hidden in modernity. Therefore, bringing this contradiction to light would contribute to correctly understanding colonial modernity.