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/
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The first reaction many readers had was to celebrate the butler’s courage, because he chose to tell his lord the truth and confront him with his true reflection. And unlike all the other characters, he mentioned one positive aspect: the lord’s good heart. (chapter 68) In their eyes, valet Kim had turned into a hero not fearing his death. But we had another hero in this chapter, the scholar Jung In-Hun. The latter took the crying Baek Na-Kyum in his arm and brought him away from the scene, where Heena noona was getting beaten by a rich noble. (chapter 68) In her eyes, he was a hero, because he showed concern and care towards her tenderhearted brother. (chapter 68) Yet, only a few applauded Jung In-Hun for his behavior. Why? It is because many readers have already perceived his true nature: his hypocrisy and coldness hidden behind his calm demeanor and huge smiles. That’s why we need to examine more closely the behavior of these two father figures. Are they truly heroes? In order to answer this question, it is important to look at the definition of heroism and at the characteristics of a hero.
Heroism is characterized by:2
- Acting voluntarily for the service of others who are in need, whether it is for an individual, a group, or a community
- Performing actions without any expectation of reward or external gain
- Recognition and acceptance of the potential risk or sacrifice made by taking heroic actions https://www.verywellmind.com/characteristics-of-heroism-2795943
So let’s start with the scholar’s heroism. I would like to remind the reader that this scene is told from Heena noona’s perspective. If the manhwalovers observe Jung In-Hun’s action, they have the impression that the scholar is indeed helping someone in need. He is comforting the upset boy. (chapter 68) So the first condition is met. However, neither the second condition or third component are present in the teacher’s gesture. Jung In-Hun is not exposing himself to danger, risking his own life as he doesn’t come to help the real person in danger: Heena noona. Actually, the real person who needed to be rescued was the gisaeng, and not the artist. (chapter 68) Yet, the so-called hero abandoned her to her misery, as he walked away from the room. (chapter 68) This shows that he wasn’t willing to risk his life or position. There are no selflessness and sacrifice. Secondly, he did hope something in return: while consoling the kind boy, he hoped to get recognition from the gisaengs. They would see him in a positive light, hence if he came to visit the brothel again, they wouldn’t ask him for money, and I can even envision that they would give him some wine or food. Furthermore, they would allow him to roam around. No one would question, why he would come to the gisaengs. His reason was simple: he liked the tenderhearted boy. Finally, we have to question about the scholar’s appearance at the brothel. Why was he there, so dressed up? This scene is relevant, because it displays how Heena noona got manipulated in the end. The teacher used Baek Na-Kyum as tool in order to save his own skin. In reality, Jung In-Hun was there in order to get noticed by rich and powerful nobles. He hoped to find some connections, as he knew that the brothel was the place, where influential aristocrats would like to spend their time. In my opinion, this is what happened. Jung In-Hun knew the importance of Baek Na-Kyum at the brothel. From my point of view, he used this knowledge to achieve his goal. He must have approached the guest at the gisaeng, while Heena noona was serving him. But the rich aristocrat got upset that a scholar was bothering him and started beating the poor woman. Seeing this, Baek Na-Kyum cried which gave Jung In-Hun the excuse to leave the place. He needed to console the boy. While reading this, the manhwalovers sense the origin of Heena noona’s prejudices towards rich aristocrats. The latter would disregard her, because the teacher was around, as the latter was hoping to get some benefit from it. With this scene, Byeonduck exposes the origin of Heena’s blindness, which is also visible in different panels, like this one: (chapter 68) As you can detect, the absence of her eyes reflect her blindness. The feelings she is projecting onto the painter’s are actually her own. (chapter 68) Now, we know why Baek Na-Kyum was so indoctrinated in the end. His own sister was also a victim of the manipulator, whom I had already diagnosed as a person suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder. Note that she uses the same vocabular than the scholar. (chapter 18) Hence I come to the conclusion, the teacher used the school in order to manipulate the commoners and the gisaengs. While he portrayed himself as righteous and kind, he described the powerful nobles as violent and arrogant, so that he would get the admiration from the commoners. In truth, he was deceiving them, since he looked down on them. Yet he needed them in order to get some connections to the powerful and rich nobles visiting the gisaeng house. On the other hand, since he didn’t want to get too close to the gisaengs, he employed the innocent boy as a shield, misleading Heena noona to think that Jung In-Hun had feelings for her brother. That’s why he hugs the protagonist so tightly. (chapter 68) For Heena, he was a hero, because he gave the impression that he cared for them, whereas it was the total opposite.
If we pay now attention to the butler’s behavior, it looks like the first aspect (“Acting voluntarily for the service of others who are in need“) is present in his action. He wanted to help Heena. (chapter 67) However, the second component (“Performing actions without any expectation of reward or external gain“) doesn’t apply, because he is not doing it for free. Let’s not forget Kim’s philosophy, which was exposed in chapter 65: (chapter 65) He hates scandal and trouble. The gisaeng created such a uproar that Kim almost lost his credibility in front of his master. (chapter 65) He had two reasons for allowing her to meet the painter. First, Kim feared that she would cause more chaos in the future. Secondly, Kim realized that Baek Na-Kyum had become a huge source of trouble. He knew that the artist had been abducted, hence he got aware that Baek Na-Kyum had become a target of nobles. Furthermore, as soon as he had been returned, his sister made such a ruckus that she had turned the mansion upside down. Besides, like I had mentioned before, due to her behavior, she had put Kim in a difficult spot. Finally, he had another ground for giving his help: (chapter 65) He had seen the painter hurt in the bedchamber, so his words “Lord Yoon will not harm Nakyum” were proven wrong. Therefore I conclude, he had something to gain from his intervention. But what exactly? In my perspective, Kim wanted to get rid of the painter. The valet had already anticipated that Heena noona would ask her brother to leave the mansion. That’s why he said her this: (chapter 67) The butler anticipated her words and actions, as he is very perceptive (see chapter 23). At the same time, he told her the truth: (chapter 67) He had never received the authorization from his master. However, the manhwalovers should recognize that he painted his master in a rather negative light, while leaving a good impression on her. (chapter 67) In his mind, the butler thought that Baek Na-Kyum would leave the place right away after the harsh treatment he had received. For him, there was no doubt that no one in his right mind would stay at such a place. He knew that Yoon Seungho would come back soon. In other words, he was not helping Heena or Baek Na-Kyum here. He was doing himself a favor: his desire was to lead a peaceful life. Therefore, this explanation contradicts the first point.
As for the third point (“Recognition and acceptance of the potential risk or sacrifice made by taking heroic actions“), the manhwalovers should question this: When he granted the favor, was he putting his life at risk or was he willing to sacrifice himself? In my opinion, he was not, as he was acting behind his master’s back. He waited for the lord’s departure, then he allowed her to enter the mansion with the hope that Baek Na-Kyum would follow her right away. That’s why he was waiting outside next to the door. At the same time, he couldn’t tell her to hurry. At no moment, he was risking his life. He was using his position as the loyal valet to make decisions on his own, and even lied to the head-maid, when she questioned his behavior. (chapter 67) In my opinion, we have here a new version of the painter’s escape from the first season: Kim acting as a shadow helped the artist to run away (chapter 29-30). However, the problem is that he got caught by Yoon Seungho. (chapter 68) What should he do now? I would like to remind the manhwaphiles that Kim had not only disobeyed his master’s order, but he had acted, as if he was a lord. He had given the permission without Yoon Seungho’s consent. (chapter 68 It is important to recall that this story takes place in Joseon, therefore Kim’s action can definitely be judged as a betrayal and usurpation of power. One might argue that he desired to help Heena, yet like I exposed above, he did out of selfishness and not because he felt concerned for the painter and for her. As such, Yoon Seungho has the right to be upset. He is the master and someone is acting behind his back, overlooking his orders. Under this perspective, the head-maid appears more loyal to her lord than Kim himself. In this scene, he was only serving his own interest.
People were rejoicing that Kim became brave, because he criticized his master for his behavior. But what they failed to realize is the importance of the timing. Why now? Observe that Kim only starts confronting the main lead after Yoon Seungho threatens him with consequences: (chapter 68). Note that the protagonist doesn’t menace to kill the gisaeng. He just desires to send her away, but he is now determined to punish his butler for his disobedience. He usurped his position, and as a lord he is allowed to do so. And that’s the moment, when Kim starts speaking the truth, which many readers associate to something positive.
However, this is important to realize that truth can also be used as manipulation. This is called paltering. Psychologists discern 3 types of lie: lie by commission, lie by omission and paltering.
“Like lying by omission, paltering can involve failing to disclose relevant information, but unlike lying by omission, paltering involves the active disclosure of true but misleading information: paltering enables would-be deceivers to actively influence a target’s beliefs” (Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, & Schweitzer, 2016). quoted from https://workplacepsychology.net/2016/12/18/to-deceive-using-truthful-statements-is-called-paltering/
This type of lie and manipulation is often used by politicians and even traders. They try to divert attention from the real main issue, and in our case: the butler’s disobedience and abuse of power. The other advantage is that since the paltering person is using truth as his tool, it is easier to remember and not get caught by the target. Moreover, the manipulator doesn’t have to feel guilty, as it looks like ethically more correct than lies.
That’s why it is important to look at the timing, when Kim reveals the truth. Here, I would like to bring another scene, where Kim’s first paltering was visible: chapter 50 Note, that in that chapter, the lord had the sword in his hand, and strangely the valet came late. As you can imagine, this is no coincidence. In my opinion, butler knew that something bad had happened and in order to escape his lord’s bad mood, he arrived late on purpose (lie by commission), but at the same time he revealed his knowledge about the cause for Baek Na-Kyum’s depressed mood in order to divert his master’s attention. That way, he could put the blame on the absent noble, but also on the painter. The latter had disregarded him due to the scholar’s words. At the same time, he made the lord feel insecure, because it showed him that he had behaved exactly like a client, a man obsessed with sex. That’s why with the butler’s intervention, the master had a relapse. What mattered for Kim was a peaceful life, the rest is (chapter 65) Yet, he never expected such a change of behavior in the main lead, that’s why he blamed the painter afterwards. (chapter 52)
Hence I come to the conclusion that Kim’s MO is mostly paltering. And now, it is time to return our attention to the conversation between Yoon Seungho and his valet. It is important to examine each argument Kim brought up: (chapter 68) Initially, it looks like he is appealing to the lord’s heart, but in reality the main point is the noble’s judgement. The valet is reprimanding his master for his lack of discernment. He misjudged the painter’s behavior. This is relevant because in this panel, I view a first emotional manipulation. His real intent is to make the lord doubt his own judgement, like “look, back then you made the wrong decision… therefore you could be wrong here”. But the readers know that Yoon Seungho is right. Heena is determined to take away his lover, so his initial judgement about Heena is indeed correct. In his eyes, she represents a source of thread, he might lose the artist. One might argue that Yoon Seungho is sequestring the painter which is also correct, yet like my reader Luzy pointed out, this is the painter’s decision. Neither Kim nor Heena nor Yoon Seungho have to make the decision for him. And here, Kim and Heena are trying to do so. The problem is that Kim got caught. But let’s go back to my initial thought. Kim used his knowledge (the lord’s misjudgment) in order to make his lord doubt himself. and he appealed to his emotions for that. This type of manipulation is called gaslighting:
“Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that’s seen in abusive relationships. It’s the act of manipulating a person by forcing them to question their thoughts, memories, and the events occurring around them. A victim of gaslighting can be pushed so far that they question their own sanity.” https://www.healthline.com/health/gaslighting#:~:text=Gaslighting%20is%20a%20form%20of,they%20question%20their%20own%20sanity.
As a conclusion, Kim made the lord feel insecure and doubt his own judgment and used facts in order to achieve his goal. The lord should rely on his butler’s discernment. But the mercy and favor for the painter are just a subterfuge, he is trying to mask his wrongdoing.
I could bring up another panel as illustration: (chapter 68) Here, he is using the past in order to distort reality and memories while speaking truth. What Kim doesn’t mention here is his involvement in that incident. (chapter 65) Kim is destroying the lord’s confidence, so that Yoon Seungho will rely on Kim’s judgement.
If you pay attention to Kim’s words during that confrontation, Kim is actually utilizing many psychological and emotional manipulations:
- Guilty trip (chapter 68) “You are so cruel to this boy”. He might be right, yet why didn’t he say anything in chapter 64? (chapter 64) He literally looked away, because truth wasn’t helpful in this case. Feigning innocence and ignorance was more appropriate. (chapter 23)
- Shaming and vilifying the target: (chapter 68)
- Projection: it is a defense mechanism used to displace responsibility. Here, Kim decided to use Baek Na-Kyum as justification for his infraction: (chapter 68)
- Triangulation: “Triangulation is a tactic used to manipulate an interaction between two people who are not communicating directly with one another. It is problematic because a third person becomes involved in a situation that should be between the two individuals involved in the conflict.” https://www.e-counseling.com/mental-health/what-is-triangulation-psychology/ (chapter 68) Here, Kim is mentioning the past, where he played an active role between the father and son. In other words, he is reminding the master that he is acting like a mediator. However, this revelation exposes the servant’s manipulation. He was one of the causes for the falling apart between father Yoon and the eldest son. We have to imagine that he never revealed the real reason for Yoon Seungho’s rebellious nature to father Yoon. And here, he is behaving like in the past. He tries to intervene between Baek Na-Kyum, Heena noona and Yoon Seungho, as if he had the right to. (chapter 68)
- Diversion: (chapter 68) he is bringing up the past to divert Yoon Seungho from the main problem: Kim abused his position.
- Negging: (chapter 68) making a person feel bad about herself, by giving backhanded compliments or comparing to another person. On the surface, it looks like constructive criticism, while in reality the victim is supposed to feel terrible and doubt his personality. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/negging
I have to admit that I can’t give you an illustration of all psychological tricks Kim used in this confrontation. On wikipedia, there is a whole list of different psychological manipulations, which served me as orientation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_manipulation Nonetheless, as the readers can detect, I tried to look for more info for this analysis.
After portraying Kim as a manipulator, I would like to remind my reader of two aspects: I described the butler as the gatekeeper, the one who opens the door. And now, if the manhwaphiles pay attention to this picture, (chapter 68) they will detect that the door is now open. The valet opened Pandora’s box in my opinion. That’s why Yoon Seungho was hurt and at the end ran away. (chapter 68) He had heard, how Heena noona was comparing him to misfortune, reinforcing his negative opinion about himself. He had been already prepared mentally by his butler. He was as wounded as Baek Na-Kyum, when the scholar had voiced his true thoughts about the painter. (chapter 40) While the artist’s fate is to become a prostitute, the other is destined to bring misery. He already externalized this perception about himself in chapter 49: (chapter 68) For me, chapter 68 is the new version of chapter 40. That’s why I wasn’t rejoicing at all about Kim’s behavior. He was far from being honest with his truth. In reality, he used truth mixed with emotions as his ultimate tool in order to save his own skin. In other words, he functioned as the noble’s mirror.
This scene made me think of “Snow White and the 7 dwarfs”, where the mirror of truth tells the jealous queen that Snow White is far more beautiful than her. With this truth, the queen is led to take actions against the heroine and torment her. And here, we have another allusion how truth can be used as a weapon. The mirror never told the queen how to become the most beautiful woman. He never gave her any advice, it retained information: beauty can be different. It is not just the physical aspect, but it is about the personality. Therefore we could say that the mirror of Truth manipulated the queen leading her to her own demise. However, at no moment the queen never questioned the mirror of Truth and its ulterior motive. That’s exactly how Kim behaved the whole time explaining why Yoon Seungho never suspect his words. They reflected the truth. Yet the valet never intervened for his sake and for the painter’s sake. He only did, when he noticed that his lord was angry and let others take the blame, like here the father or Yoon Seungho himself. However, the readers should remember that in this scene, Kim had abused his authority. That’s also a fact.
Therefore I don’t consider Kim as a hero, quite the opposite. He is the worst manipulator, the reason why Yoon Seungho ended up with self-hatred and became violent with his swing moods. Kim isolated him, eroded his sense of reality, making him fear his own image. Besides, he didn’t even help him, when he got raped. Since Yoon Seungho has been manipulated psychologically and emotionally for years, he ended up hating himself.
“Long term effects of emotional manipulation:
- Isolation and numbness
- Requiring approval
- Feeling resentful
- excessive judging
- depressive disorder and anxiety” https://peaksrecovery.com/blog/effects-of-psychological-emotional-manipulation
- chronic pain
- eventual feelings that their partner or parent is correct, and that they are “no good” or ugly, for example https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327080#long-term-effects
That’s the reflection Kim wanted him to have, so that the latter would never question his servant’s actions. And now, this picture has another meaning for me: (chapter 57) His gaze is only focused on his valet, not realizing that the latter is not honest with him. From my point of view, there’s a reason why Byeonduck put Jung In-Hun’s so-called heroism (chapter 68) next to the valet’s . (chapter 68) For me, she put the readers in the same situation than Heena noona’s. Just like the kisaeng, many readers expressed their admiration for the butler, because he had told the truth. They associated truth to goodness. Heena noona also watched the kindness in the scholar’s gesture leading her to think that the teacher was a honest and caring person, yet she overlooked that the teacher had in reality abandoned her. He never protected her and let her suffer. This picture truly reflects his cowardice and treachery (chapter 68) He slowly takes the artist in his arms. He doesn’t rush to her side, remains silent and immobile. His passivity reflects his true personality, but Heena is too focused on her young brother to grasp the situation. (chapter 68) The crying boy is used as a diversion. Besides, I am quite certain that Jung In-Hun was actually the source of her misery by trying to get attention from powerful nobles. Note that the scholar and Kim utilize both the painter’s to hide behind their misdeed. He serves as a justification why the scholar left the gisaeng behind and why Kim defied his master’s order. The domestic used kindness and pity as legitimations (chapter 68), while it was the opposite. He desired to get rid of them.
But there’s hope in my opinion. Baek Na-Kyum refused to listen to his sister’s words, which Kim hadn’t expected. Therefore he got caught, he anticipated Baek Nakyum’s eagerness to leave. (chapter 67) Secondly, by giving his master a reflection of his behavior, the valet lost his influence on the main lead. Remember that I wrote that Baek Na-Kyum served as the lord’s mirror, therefore he will take over the valet’s role. He will reveal his true reflections: his flaws and wrongdoings (chapter 68), but also his quality: his honesty (chapter 58). Let’s not forget that the artist realized his dedication in chapter 58. Note the huge difference. The artist never uses others in order to judge the lord. Kim will realize soon enough the consequences of opening Pandora’s box. He might have achieved his goal (the lord won’t punish him for his disobedience), yet he lost his lord’s trust. Notice that right after this quarrel, Yoon Seungho started treating Baek Na-Kyum like a noble. (chapter 69) (chapter 72) From that moment on, Yoon Seungho was no longer viewing the valet as the unofficial lord. We could say that he had lost his status as “hero” in the main lead’s eyes.
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