This is where you can read the manhwa. https://www.lezhinus.com/en/comic/painter But be aware that this manhwa is a mature Yaoi, which means, it is about homosexuality with explicit scenes. If you want to read more essays, here is the link to the table of contents: https://bebebisous33analyses.wordpress.com/2020/07/04/table-of-contents-painter-of-the-night/
In the second part, I’ll compare the mentality and the protagonists from the manhwa with these from the German theater play “Spring awakening” written by Frank Wedekind. I know that many are not familiar with Wedekind’s work but it is definitely interesting to observe the similarities between both works.
I am well aware that Byeonduck has not been inspired by this theater play, however through this comparison I would like to point out that her manhwa has truly the potential to become a classic in the long run due to the topics she covers: acceptance of homosexuality, the conservative moral values oppressing people’s identity and tabooing sex leading to problems, the process of self-discovery, the importance of critical thinking and the unconscious, the inequity in a hierarchical society, coercive persuasion as a method to oppress people, the traumas caused by suppressing too much the unconscious, the decadence of the nobility in the 18th Century, the meaning of paintings, the importance of education for children etc. Therefore people shouldn’t read Painter Of The Night just as a hot and gory story but as a story with many meanings, just like “Justine: the Misfortunes of Virtue” from Sades that is often reduced to sex.
In order to grasp better why this author wrote such a provocative theater play, we have to understand the historical context. This story was written during the German Empire (1871-1918) which is described as an authoritarian state (Obrigkeitsstaat). In this historical era, German society was influenced by strict values, like f. ex. blind obedience, willingness to make sacrifices, ruthlessness, nationalism, high esteem for the army but no critical thinking. That’s why critical ability was not trained rather it was the opposite. Critic was oppressed. At the same time, more and more schools were founded which sounds like a good thing. However, the true reason for increasing literacy was to turn boys into obedient soldiers in reality. [Now, you can understand why Hitler had it much easier later… these values existed before he came to power] This explains why physical punishment and the ruling by fear were common methods during this historical period. Children had to listen to their parents, their teachers and the authorities without question.
Now, the readers can sense the similarities between both stories. Both societies in “Spring awakening” and “Painter Of The Night” are very conservative. Filial piety and respect towards higher classes are requested and highly esteemed, besides there is a strict and conservative social hierarchy and no one has to question the social norms. The commoners are not allowed to complain, they have to accept the inequity. In the German Empire, nobility still existed in that period despite the constitution. There is no real supervision about the teacher’s methods and skills, they can do whatever they want as long as they are supporting the ruler and his politics. The king and nobility’s authority are not even criticized. This explains why in the German Empire teenagers have no freedom and are monitored all the time. Sex and sex education are taboos, yet the teenagers have to deal with the awakening of their sexual desires coming along with the puberty.
After describing the context, we can now start to introduce the story “Spring Awakening”. We have a 14 years old girl, Wendla Bergmann, who gets pregnant by coerced sex. Her tragedy is that she is not even aware of the pregnancy. Because her pregnancy could be seen as a stain for her family, it is disguised as a disease by the doctor, while the young woman is forced to get an abortion causing her death. Melchior Gabor, also a 14 years old teenager from the bourgeoisie, is the one responsible for her situation. Since he suddenly felt attracted by her, he slept with her, well aware that there is no deep love between them. He is just following his natural instincts. You have to imagine that Wendla Bergman couldn’t even call it a rape because she had no idea what was happening to her. Now, you are wondering how all this could happen.
Since Wendla has been taught to listen to her mother’s words, she believes everything what the mother says. The poor girl listens to her mother so well that at the end, it becomes her downfall. The mother refused to give her a lesson about sex education in many occasions. First, the teenager has a sister named Ina who has just given birth but during Ina’s pregnancy, Wendla was not allowed to meet Ina. Her mother announces her the birth of Ina’s son which surprises Wendla. Wendla’s parent explains the origin of the birth with the legend about the stork delivering the baby. However, she is very curios which explains why she is never really satisfied with her mother’s answers and keeps asking. Moreover, she even begs Melchior to beat her revealing her sado-masochist disposition.
Wendla is not so convinced by Mrs. Bergmann’s lies but the mother is determined not to tell her the truth. The innocent girl doesn’t give up until the mother confesses that children are born out of love after a marriage. So in the girl’s mind, love and marriage become the conditions for a pregnancy. Imagine her astonishment, when her mother reproaches her to endanger their family’s reputation at the end because she is now pregnant. In that moment, the daughter replies that this can’t be possible because she only loves her mother and she is not married. She is not stupid, just really naive. Now, you are wondering where the similarities between Wendla and the characters from Painter Of The Night are.
This is quite simple: Baek Na-Kyum has a lot in common with Wendla. Both embodies innocence and purity. Both become victims of deceptions and as a result both get raped due to the manipulation of a relative. Baek Na-Kyum would have never refused Yoon Seungho so strongly, if he had not been brainwashed by Jung In-Hun in the first place. The “rape” is the consequence of the false belief. The painter is attracted by the noble right from the start but he has to fight against his natural sexual desires since he has been taught that sex is dirty and vulgar. Sure, here it is about homosexuality, yet I am quite sure that Jung In-Hun is no advocate for sex education in general, especially when I suspect that he is a pedophile. Sex is a taboo based on etiquette and social manners in that historical period. Therefore painting erotic pictures about sodomy is like a crime in Jung In-Hun’s eyes. As you know, he had another reason to condemn these pictures. He never wanted the painter to become successful. Wendla and Baek Na-Kyum put so much trust in their “parent” that they fail to notice the deepness of their lies. Then we have the same expectations. Both parents don’t accept disobedience, neither critic nor question.
Wendla senses that she is not suffering from hypochromic anemia but she is not aware of her real condition. She still relies on her mother, just like Baek Na-Kyum who has already sensed that something was wrong and decided to lie in the chapter 38. Yet they still have a certain faith in their relative.
Both characters are abandoned and betrayed by their loved and admired relative. The mother asks for an abortion without telling her daughter. She hides it behind her tears and sweet words. Here, the beholder can witness a similar attitude of the teacher. Behind his sweet talk and smile, he has another intention. The low-born has to spy for him. He is here actually telling him to sell himself indirectly, yet he acts as if he knows nothing about Seungho’s sexual orientation and that Baek Na-Kyum could become his target. His ignorance protects him for feeling guilty and responsible. The mother never told her daughter who Mrs Schmidt was and what she was about to do. She even adds at the end that Mrs. Schmidt is just someone. That way, she can’t be blamed for her daughter’s death and the latter can never reproach her responsibility. In-Hun’s alleged ignorance leads to the rape, just like Mrs. Bergmann ignored deliberately the sex education leading to the rape.
When Wendla senses her death coming, the mother till the end lies to her daughter which shows Mrs. Bergmann’s real coldness. She is actually the one responsible for her future death because she is the one who asks for the illegal abortion out of shame. Moreover, even before the truth about her pregnancy is unveiled, the mother keeps saying that Wendla is just suffering from hypochromic anemia. However, unlike Baek Na-Kyum, Wendla doesn’t resent her mother so much, once she discovers the truth. She just complains: “Why didn’t you tell me everything before?”. Besides, she is left in the dark about her own fate: Mrs Schmidt coming for the abortion.
For Baek Na-Kyum, it is totally different because at the end, he accepts the abandonment and realizes the real betrayal. On the other hand he is still accepting the harsh words coming from his learned sir:
“You were born to be a prostitute”
That’s why he tries to call himself a prostitute in front of the noble but fails (chapter 42).
He has not learnt yet to criticize the teacher’s words because the latter is a learned sir, whereas he has no education. Furthermore the blind obedience in “Spring awakening” is also visible in Painter Of The night, since it is expected by the low noble. Through the rethorical question, Baek Na-Kyum is manipulated into dropping the paintings. The artist has to follow his “adoptive father”‘s values and restrictions. Just like in the German Empire, harsh punishments are a common method in order to create submissive pawns. By inducing fear and giving punishments, Baek Na-Kyum is little by little coerced to give up his own identity and personality. He has to follow the rules and social norms which makes him a perfect tool for deception and lies. He ends up as a drunk because he needs to fill that emptiness. Indirectly, the author is here showing issues concerning blind obedience and filial piety, just like Wedekind. The portray of adults is quite negative: they are superficial, manipulative and hypocrite, unwilling to admit their own failure or guilt.
Another parallel is the importance of the clothing. In the first scene, Wendla’s mother wants her to change her night gown as she has become more feminine and more seductive. She needs to dress more like a woman but the young girl refuses. Then we have Jung In-Hun who wonders why Baek Na-Kyum doesn’t have his headband. Just a simple question and yet it is quite important. Here, Jung In-Hun is reminding him to wear the headband as it is a sign for his social status.
So he is pointing out that he should wear clothes according to his social status. Notice, this servant is also wearing a headband. The parents are here making sure that they are dressed according to their social status and age. There is no freedom in both cases.
But unlike Wendla, the artist has a different fate. First, he doesn’t die, although we could say that the rejection from Jung In-Hun could be perceived as a death in the figurative sense. Jung In-Hun thought that the low-born had no value any longer hence he didn’t need to keep pretense. The second difference is that he has the great chance to meet someone who is about to become his “mentor”: Yoon Seungho. The latter has a different way to teach the painter. He makes the young man question the teacher’s intentions through a question. He wants him to become more critical, to develop critical abilities. Yoon Seungho is a supporter of the education for commoners, as the chapter 6 underlined it with the sarcastic remarks from the powerful noble. I have the impression that the poetry could become the link that brings Yoon Seungho and Baek Na-Kyum closer. As you already know, I have no doubt that the noble returned a different poem. As a result, I am expecting that Yoon Seungho becomes the low-born’s teacher. He truly becomes his “learned sir”.
The other difference is that unlike Wendla, Baek Na-Kyum has an idea about sex and sexuality because he was raised at the brothel, whereas Wendla belongs to the bourgeoisie, a higher class from the society and she is a woman. Besides, we have another contrast: Baek Na-Kyum blamed Yoon Seungho for the rape and hated him,
whereas Wendla shows no resent towards the young man due to her ignorance.
Yet their innocence and their fate as victims are the common denominators. They are manipulated by selfish, two-faced and narrow-minded parents who reject their own responsibility. Their methods of education might differ, Wendla was never beaten unlike some of her friends and Baek Na-Kyum, yet the deception was used by both relatives. For her own sake, she preferred to risk her daughter’s life than have her family’s reputation ruined. However, Jung In-Hun is worse than Mrs. Bergmann, since he doesn’t even love the young man and shows no conscience at all. He can’t even cry, he can only fake smiles.
As you can sense, I only compared two characters from the theater play and could outline many parallels. But this is not the end as I haven’t even examined the main character Melchior Gabor yet. This will be the topic for another analysis.
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