The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a heart-shattering story which leaves its readers with a rather strong feeling of unease. As it becomes obvious from the name of the book, the plot is focused on a woman who turns vegetarian. However, this story is not about dieting or healthy eating, the novel is more about people’s cruelty and violence.
Mr. Cheong is the first character readers are going to get acquainted with and this experience is definitely not going to be pleasant. The most frightening thing about him is that it is so easy to understand this man. Mr. Cheong depends on a comfortable life. Convenience is his religion! The man hasn’t even tried to do something that required him going out of his comfort zone. Not to mention that he is ready to leave his wife as soon as he realizes that she is not going to return to her former self. Mr. Cheong considers Yeong-hye to be self-absorbed, but fails to notice that he is the biggest egoist in their little family. Frankly speaking, more often than not, the majority of people tend to behave like him. How often do we agree to put up with an idea that our needs are no more important that others’? It should be mentioned that every mentally healthy person might have strikes of selfishness from time to time, but it is rather important to tame it on time.
One might get an idea that Yeong-hye is insane, for people don’t usually see dreams about slaughter of animals, feel how violence sticks to them or want to becomes trees. It might be true, but the line between sanity and insanity is too fine for us to be able to differentiate the former from the latter. Her dream is to stop participating in any form of violence and – as the result – she ends up wanting to be a flower or any other plant. Why is such a strange wish? The most reasonable explanation is that plants are harmless. They grow, occupy their own place in a chain of a life, help to produce oxygen and then die. Isn’t it a perfect life? Isn’t it wonderful to be as innocuous as possible? Yeong-hye might be strange and her behavior could be self-destructive, but she doesn’t mean any harm.
In-hye’s story is about importance of being happy. She often performs a function of a pacifier. The woman tries so hard to be a good wife, a perfect mother and a loyal sister that she fails to notice how unhappy she really is. She also proves that people who seem to be well-balanced are not protected from self-loathing, depression and self-harm.
It is vital to stay open-minded while reading this story. Who knows, Yeong-hye might be wright and our world is really filled with violence and cruelty. However, be prepared not to get any proper answer. They say if a story makes people think and ask themselves question, it means that the story is good. If it is so, this novel is a masterpiece.