Painter Of The Night: “Spring Awakening” part 3

This essay represents the last part of the comparison between the theater play “Spring Awakening” from Frank Wedekind with the manhwa Painter Of The Night. In order to be able to compare the characters from the German theater play with the ones from the Korean manhwa, it is important to give a short explanation about the characters from “Spring Awakening” and the role they played in the story. We have the main protagonist Melchior Gabor, his parents and the school director Sunstroke.

Melchior Gabor is a teenager with good grads at school hence he is very confident. Furthermore he is a free spirit hence he knows a lot about sexuality through books and observations. The reason why he stands so much in opposition to Wendla Bergmann is that his mother wasn’t strict compared to the other parents. She believed in her son’s maturity and intelligence and imagined that he wouldn’t do anything stupid. However, as you know it, Melchior Gabor will force himself on Wendla Bergmann. Moreover Melchior is the friend of Moritz Stiefel (Boots). The latter has problems with his grads therefore later, the pessimistic teenager decides to commit suicide because he is expelled from school. He is unable to face the disdain from his parents and the humiliation. But before killing himself, Melchior Gabor tried to help him in many ways, like giving his own homework or giving him a lesson about sex education. This led to the situation that Moritz Stiefel asked Melchior to write notes for the sex education because the former is rather shy and embarrassed. However, after Moritz’s suicide, the adults which means the parents, the school director and the teachers put the blame on Melchior because of the notes about the sex education found in the belongings of Moritz. They claim that the student did it due to the shock he received, when he saw the “vulgar and dirty” papers. As you already know, the real cause was the pressure to perform well coming from the family and the school. Moritz was well aware that he needed to rank among the first 60th students in order to avoid the expel. Even the school director Sunstroke admits this:

because we have to protect our institution from the devastation of a suicide epidemic that has already broken out in several high schools…” (Act 3, scene 1)

As you can see, the pressure to perform is in fact related to the increasing number of suicides among the students underlining the extreme pressure put on the teenagers. And here, the school director Sunstroke reminds me of Jung In-Hun due to their similar profession and attitude. They blame others for their own failure, especially a teenager which is the perfect target. Jung In-Hun also made the painter feel guilty and dirty with his brainwashing and later with the rejection and abandonment. Since he was born to be a prostitute, the teacher didn’t need to feel responsible for him. Sunstroke doesn’t need to feel guilty for Moritz’s suicide as there is Melchior as justification. Strangely is that both characters are also associated to the same metaphor: the smelling air due to the lack of opened windows. When Jung In-Hun is seen in the library, , the beholder never see any window, only books or walls. In “Spring Awakening”, Sunstroke asks to have a window opened during a meeting but he is unable to have his wish fulfilled. Either one teacher doesn’t want to have his back facing the opened window or one window was boarded up. This underlines their lack of connection to the youth, they are both living in their own world, disconnected from the students or from people in general.

But let’s go back to Melchior Gabor. Instead of changing their methods, the school and as such the adults choose to turn the main protagonist as a scapegoat which leads the father to abandon his son and sends him to a reformatory. His mother Mrs Gabor agrees to her husband’s decision the moment she discovers that her son slept with Wendla. Rejected by society and by his own parents, Melchior escapes from the reformatory and goes to the cemetery. There he sees Wendla’s tomb and in his despair, he begins to hallucinate, where he sees his dead friend Moritz. He is about to commit suicide, when a masked man appears and convinces him to keep living. We have to understand that this hooded man personifies life as such. The masked man tells Melchior how the generation conflict could have been mitigated. The parents should have responded a little to the children’s needs and talked openly to them and simultaneously they should have shown them what was out there in the world. So despite the rejection and abandonment, Melchior decides to follow him and discover the world. He chooses life over his friend.

As you can imagine, we can draw a lot of parallels between Melchior Gabor and Yoon Seungho. Both know about sex quite well, then they are betrayed and abandoned by their own family. Besides, both become the scapegoat for the wrongdoings committed by adults. Both rape, although it was never their intention in the first place. Then their personality is quite similar: they have a huge influence on others (leadership), they are very observant, they read a lot. In other words, the two young men are intelligent free spirits. Moreover, despite the huge pain of losing his friends Wendla and Moritz, Melchior chose life in the end, just like Yoon Seungho. The only first huge difference is that Yoon Seungho is not a social person as he has no real friend. Even his childhood friend Jihwa doesn’t know him that well as the latter always keeps his own thoughts and emotions to him. However, we can conclude that Yoon Seungho’s fate resembles a lot Melchior’s.

Nonetheless, it is important to look closer to their similarities. Strangely, both have a huge libido. Melchior started having erections much earlier compared to his friends (Act 1, scene 2), just like Seungho is able to have sex with Baek Na-Kyum for a very long time. (chapter 33). Their age might differ but they both experience “Spring Awakening”. When Melchior is lying in the hay loft, Wendla joins him. Although he attempts to send her away, she refuses to leave him hence he can’t resist her any longer and starts kissing her. She objects that they don’t love each other that’s why they shouldn’t kiss, however Melchior replies that love doesn’t exist, there is only egoism. In other words, he implies that love is not required during intercourse, they should just follow their impulses. We can observe that he is following his sexual natural instincts. This reminds us of the scene, where Yoon Seungho has sex with Jihwa at the pavilion.

chapter 3

Here the excited noble is also following his instincts. For the first time, he is aroused and feels sex with a man quite exciting. He is neglecting his partner’s needs as well. He experiences something new. He feels pleasure for the first time, he also perceives himself differently. Just like Melchior, the noble is only focusing on sex and doesn’t pay attention to love. He is selfish just like the teenager. Striking is the resemblance in the location, a pavilion and a hay loft are quite similar, since they are open.

However, the huge difference is that Melchior has sex just one time with Wendla and he actually rapes her. With Jihwa, it was different because this was consensual sex and Jihwa did love his childhood friend. Furthermore, Yoon Seungho makes another experience: he makes love to Baek Na-Kyum after the latter confesses his love to him mistaken him for his learned sir. Yoon Seungho thought that he could just have sex, nevertheless he ended up feeling the difference between sex and love. They made love and they had not just sex, though Seungho didn’t realize the distinction. Melchior in the theater play never got to know what making love feels. However, we could say that this represents the second step in the Spring Awakening of our Korean protagonist. Unlike Melchior, Yoon Seungho can no longer say that love doesn’t exist, since the young artist confessed his love … yet the master is unaware of his own feelings.

The readers know that Yoon Seungho rapes the low-born at the pavilion, just like Melchior raped the innocent girl at the hay loft. Both never planned it, even if we can observe a difference between both rapes. Yoon Seungho had planned to have sex with the man there, he thought that Baek Na-Kyum had remembered their night together. Since he thought that the artist had made a painting of their night together, he imagined that he had accepted him as his sex partner. Melchior initially tried to fight his instincts, as he wanted to send his friend away but she refused unaware of the reason for his rejection. In other words, the teenagers acted on his instincts, on an impulse. Yoon Seungho raped the young man out of frustration and not because of a sudden attraction. Besides, Baek Na-Kyum refused more categorically than Wendla, he slapped the noble, whereas she tried to argue with her partner. They shouldn’t kiss because they don’t love each other. The stronger resistance can be explained very easily. The painter knew what the man wanted, whereas Wendla had no idea what was going to happen to her. Unlike Wendla, Baek Na-Kyum received sex education because he was raised at a brothel, furthermore he knew about homosexual sex. Strangely, both rapes start with kisses which shows that there was more than just sex. A kiss serves as a trigger for arousal but reveals a certain tenderness.

Right after the rape, Yoon Seungho calms down and regrets it hence he tries to redeem himself by taking care of Baek Na-Kyum.

chapter 26

For Melchior, it is a little different. Some time passes until he sends a letter to Wendla which is caught by her mother. However, both want to take their responsibility for their wrongdoing. When the sex marathon occurred which led to the uke’s exhaustion, here again the lord wanted to redeem himself for overlooking the health condition of his partner. Hence he made sure that he had some water and have the doctor fetched and was ready to buy some expensive medicine.

Another resemblance is the role played by Melchior in the discovery of sexuality. We know that Seungho forced the uke to look at his facial expressions while having sex with him so that the latter would no longer deny his sexual orientation. In the theater play, Wendla asked Melchior to beat her because she had never experienced it before. She was curious about it, Melchior was quite surprised by her request but decided to follow her request. Through him, she discovered her sado-masochist disposition. Both Wendla and Baek Na-Kyum realized what they like, though the girl has no idea that it is related to sex. On the other hand, Yoon Seungho contrasts so much to Melchior because the latter ran away after beating the girl. He felt embarrassed and had no idea how to deal with those feelings. Yoon Seungho has never been embarrassed about sex and he has no problem to use violence as well. Sure, he is much older than Melchior and as such he has experienced much more than the teenager.

Both young men are excluded from the family. The elder master accused his son of sodomy and cut off his topknot which created a huge scandal. Then he moved to another mansion in the countryside. Melchior Gabor becomes the gossip because of Moritz’s suicide and of the notes he left to him. The father, Mr. Gabor, declares that Melchior needs to be sent to a reformatory which could be considered as an exile. So there is a physical distance between their relatives and the protagonists in both stories. Another similarity is the cowardice of the fathers.

Mr. Gabor blames his wife for their son’s wrongdoings, while he never showed any interest in education before. He could have explained more about sex education but he never did. The father prefers to save his family’s reputation by abandoning his son than to help his son to take his responsibility for Wendla. Both parents are selfish. The result is the same: Yoon Seungho and Melchior felt betrayed and abandoned by their family. On the other hand, we have no idea about Seungho’s mother. Was she alive back then? Did she become a victim of the purge because her parents could have been involved? The mother could have played a role in Seungho’s suffering as well. Either she betrayed him like Melchior’s mother or she became herself a victim of her husband’s action.

Then we come to the ending. Melchior chose life at the end, although he was suffering so much due to his guilty conscience, the loss of two friends, the abandonment and the disowning by his own family. Yoon Seungho must have felt the same way, even worse, since I suppose that he was himself raped. Besides, I have the feeling that Yoon Seungho could have been responsible for the death of the servants (forced to erase every trace of a possible participation in a conspiracy). We only hear that the servants were replaced. Either they moved with the elder master or they were “removed”. But there is a huge difference: Yoon Seungho chose to get revenge on his father by keeping his reputation as a famous sodomite so that the father would be constantly reminded of his own sins and cowardice. Furthermore, Yoon Seungho was barely alive all these years because of his passivity. He was just surviving hence he constantly looked at his courtyard while smoking at the window. Yet there is the appearance of the masked man in the manhwa as well: the drawings created by Baek Na-Kyum. Through the erotic books, Seungho came back to life as he was able to get aroused. Yoon Seungho had no idea who was the creator of these beautiful paintings, however they became the reason for discovering joy in his life. That’s why we can see the huge smile on the noble, when he meets the low-born for the first time. So the meeting of the hooded man happened before the story in the Painter Of The Night starts. And now, you can perceive the contrast: the chronology is totally different. Since the theater play ends with the meeting of the hooded man, we have to imagine that the manhwa could be seen as a continuation of “Spring Awakening”. This is what Melchior is going to experience later: rediscover the pleasure in sex, discover the existence of love and finally have a companion by his side. The hooded man takes his mask away and gets an identity: Baek Na-Kyum. The latter is the reason why Yoon Seungho smiles again, why he can feel emotions again, while he was living more or less like a robot in the past.

The master actually experiences two kind of “Spring Awakening”: the first one with Jihwa and the second one with Baek Na-Kyum in the bedchamber of the low-born. Sure, his “revenge” on the father kept him alive all this time, while Melchior is far more desperate and feels more guilty than the lord at the cemetery. However, you could see that both works have a lot in common, not only because of the topics but also the resemblance of the characters. And the theater play was written 200 years ago which shows how actual it is. The hypocrisy, the pressure on students to perform well, the discovery of sexuality among teenagers and its repercussion, the taboo linked to homosexuality will never disappear.

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