Announcement: I updated the essay “Past, present and future – part 3”
This is where you can read the manhwa. https://www.lezhin.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/
For this topic, I used the following websites:
- (French) https://nospensees.fr/lart-detre-lache/
- (English) https://exploringyourmind.com/the-art-of-beign-a-coward/
- (French) http://fr.housepsych.com/malodushie_default.htm
It took me a long time before I came to the conclusion that Kim was a villain, because he was betraying the protagonists. Striking is that I am receiving comments from readers saying that they have a different opinion. For them, he is no villain. Interesting is that they justify his actions and lies, because he fears for his life due Yoon Seungho’s mood swings. And this leads to the following observation. These readers are not denying Kim’s fear and as such cowardice. Why? It is because in chapter 64 and 65, his gutlessness is especially visible. (episode 64) When the butler sees the painter being treated like a sex toy, the valet doesn’t interfere at all. The manhwaphiles can even observe how Kim is so paralyzed before speaking. Then he acts, as if nothing was happening in front of him. He bows in front of his lord, not out of respect but out of fear. Then he gives an excuse for his interruption before taking to his heels, leaving the artist behind to his misery. Striking is that this attitude didn’t occur just once, but twice… as it is revealed in the next episode that Kim witnessed a similar scene. He heard how Yoon Seungho got assaulted, but he did nothing. He literally abandoned him too. And he knows what he did was wrong, since he shows signs of culpability. He is repressing his guilty conscience. He had even forgotten it, until he was confronted with a similar situation. However, his reaction was the same. This indicates that cowardice has become a major part of Kim’s personality. No, there’s no mistake. Fear is a synonym for cowardice, for it means that a person has not been able to overcome his fear. But what is a coward actually? How does someone become one? This pushed me to make some research.
When I watched the documentary “dans la tête d’un lâche” (in the head of a coward), I recognized the parallels between Kim’s behavior and the testimony of a person who refused to help a girl from getting raped. Her words were: “This is normal”, “nothing is happening”, “I fear for my life”. These kind of thoughts represent the psychological mechanism called “cognitive dissonance”. It’s a coping mechanism that helps people to feel less guilty. Put in a terrible situation and confronted with a dilemma, people try to explain why they behave like that. Since they are acting against their principles and beliefs, they feel uncomfortable and in order to reduce their embarrassment and discomfort, they adapt their values to their behavior. Hence if someone witnesses a person in danger, the witness tends to minimize the danger in order to justify this disregard for not providing assistance to a person in danger, like for example “sex won’t kill the painter” or “the artist is not calling for my help” or “I am just interrupting a rough sex session” or “Yoon Seungho could definitely kill me”. However, concerning the last point, if you pay attention, you’ll remember that the noble clearly said, he had no intention of interrupting his sex session and he didn’t mind the valet watching them. In other words, Yoon Seungho was not threatening Kim’s life. Now, someone might argue that these points above were just developed by me and we never saw any “cognitive dissonance” from the butler, which I can immediately refute. Byeonduck made the readers see what “cognitive dissonance” is:
- : Why should I feel guilty, if it doesn’t concern me? It is not my problem, why should I have helped the painter?
- : Why should I feel guilty, because the sex session proved clearly that the lord wouldn’t hurt the painter? If I had intervened, this could have had terrible consequences.
This means that the head is rationalizing a terrible behavior which stands in opposition to the witness’ initial values and beliefs. Therefore in order to become brave, a person needs to feel a lot of empathy. Only with a big heart, the initial fear can be overcome. This explicates why faintheartedness is a synonym for cowardice. The longer a person struggles in front of a dilemma, the higher the chances are that a person won’t help, as the latter will start convincing himself that his help is not needed.
To sum up, in chapter 64, Kim acted, as if the sexual encounter was normal and nothing was happening. This is the typical behavior of a coward, a person who refuses to help someone, because he feels frightened, exposing that the valet’s empathy is not truly developed. In my eyes, this indicates that his care and concern are more a show and an act than reality. He is indeed fainthearted. That’s why I consider him as a villain. He is a hypocrite like all the other villains: Min, the scholar Jung In-Hun and father Yoon. A person with a big heart would definitely help, exactly like Baek Na-Kyum proved it. And imagine, the painter protected a criminal, as Deok-Jae had assaulted him before, whereas Baek Na-Kyum was always respectful towards Kim. He always calls him “sir”, and even takes his words to heart.
But there’s more to it. A psychologist described the different reactions that are going through a person’s mind observing a crime: surprise, confusion and different kind of fears (embarrassment, shame, pure fear and incapacity to help). You might be surprised that shame appears in such a situation. Yet, a witness of a wrongdoing is often questioning his own senses. Is what I hear or see really a misdeed or it is just a small quarrel between lovers (in our case, a rough sex session)? Do I misinterpret the situation? What if I intervene and I was wrong… I’ll embarrass myself and even cause some trouble for nothing. And this explicates why Kim fears so much scandal and ruckus . As you can observe, cowardice is indeed connected social norms and embarrassment. Moreover, remember what I wrote about the trigger for cowardice. A person is put in front of dilemma: there are two values contradicting each other, and the person has to overcome this contradiction, like for example
- A person in need should be always assisted
- You have to make sure not to put your life in danger, hence you have to avoid dangerous situations.
In order to comprehend the notion cowardice, scientists developed different tests and one of them was to ask children. These would listen to a story and they had to make a big decision afterwards. In this story, a man loves his wife very much, but the only medicine that can save his spouse is so expensive that he can’t buy it. He has two choices: either he steals the drug and saves his wife or he lets his wife die but remains honorable. The children below 7 years old will always reply that the poor man has to let his spouse die, because if he steals the medicine, he ends up in jail. Why? It is because these children under 7 years have already internalized that stealing is bad, and you’ll get a jail sentence. However, the older children will make the opposite decision, as they are already aware that life is more important than jail. They are not afraid of getting imprisoned, they are willing to become responsible for their crime. As you can see, courage and cowardice are strongly intertwined with social norms and peoples’ values and opinions. Hence this means that in order to develop courage, a person needs to have developed his own taste, opinion and values. Therefore a brave person has not only a strong heart, but also a strong will and desires, which Baek Na-Kyum truly embodies.
But for that to happen, a child needs to get through an important phase: he needs to learn to control himself and as such his desires. That’s why I couldn’t help myself laughing, when I read the chapters 71 and 72: As you can observe, the child Yoon Seungho is learning to control his urges. Secondly, a child has to learn to make an effort and be patient. This might sound anodyne, but the psychiatrist truly outlined the importance of this development stage. This explicates why Yoon Seungho would behave like a spoiled child in chapter 30: and observe how it is strongly connected to his fear and abandonment issues. However, the moment he made a real decision and showed strong will by allowing the painter to choose his own fate, he becomes brave. It means that he is overcoming his huge fear. His strong will and big heart are the reasons why Yoon Seungho could transform into a phoenix.
And remember what I wrote about Kim in the essay “Past, present and future – part 3”. He was like a father or mother figure who would refuse to let his child grow up. He desired his master to remain in an infantile stage. And this is not surprising that Yoon Seungho was so selfish and even coward (chapter 33) in the past. He ran away, too afraid of facing the consequences of his misdeed or of getting too much into trouble with his peers. His role model was himself like that. As you can see, the rebirth of the phoenix means that Yoon Seungho is now learning to become brave and he will become a real and strong fighter, like it was perceptible during the first season. His conversation with the scholar in chapter 6 gave us a glimpse of the lord’s real values. Here, he was mocking the teacher. The former doesn’t care for social norms and treats commoners as humans in truth. He doesn’t think that peasants should remain peasants and peoples’ fate is already determined.
But let’s return our attention to the emotions a witness feels, once put in a uncomfortable situation. What caught my attention is that the specialist exposed that fear was associated to 3 reactions:
- desertion, running away
- attack, assault: let’s not forget that a cornered animal will bite and attack, if it feels threatened
- freezing which means that the body is immobile, yet the heart is beating very fast and the blood is circulating more quickly.
And now, if you observe the butler’s reactions in chapter 64-65, you’ll note that we have all these three reactions:
- : here he is threatening the doctor, if he speaks, then he will pay with his life.
- (chapter 64)
Because people associate cowardice to desertion or freezing, they always overlook one aspect: fear, a synonym for cowardice, is not excluding attack. This explicates why Ernesto Mallo wrote this:
“It becomes clear that there are only two kinds of cowards: those who flee backwards and those who flee forward.”
And this truly shows that if a coward feels threatened, he can definitely retaliate, but naturally he will never attack a person directly. He has to use another strategy due to his fear. He will use others in order to protect his own interests. And Kim is definitely using others in order to get rid of the painter. In chapter 67, he clearly implied that Heena noona should take away her brother, while the master was away. He knew from her behavior, she wouldn’t leave Baek Na-Kyum in that mansion due to the way she attempted to reach the lord’s bedchamber.
And now it is time to focus on the part why Kim became such a coward in the end. From my point of view, Kim’s attitude didn’t start with the first incident in the shed, when the lord was a teenager. It started much earlier, when the valet was himself a child. Why? It is related to education and the environment a child grew up. Let’s not forget that Kim only became Yoon Seungho’s butler, when the latter was a teenager, meaning that he wasn’t a part of the Yoon household right from the start. He was raised elsewhere. The author from the following website (fr.housepsych.com) pointed out that three important factors explain why a servant like Kim could become a coward:
- An authoritarian upbringing
- The child’s will is broken. And in our manhwa, this can only be reinforced, if the boy is a commoner, as he is considered as nobody. He has no right.
- “Faintheartedness” develops where impunity and powerlessness, violence and crime prevails. Therefore the child internalizes that he is weak in front of the outside world.
And now, you understand why I underlined out how important education and upraising were so relevant. After experiencing impotence, the child learns that he just needs to adjust himself in order to survive. This means that he obeys and follows his parents’ or master’s order very well, yet this is just a subterfuge. The weaker one quickly understands that an open conflict is dangerous and starts to act in a hidden and average way, while showing humility on the outside. And this description fits our butler perfectly. Since he is a commoner and as such weak, he became caring and humble on the outside, while in reality he is just defending his own interests, as his survival instinct has become a normality. And now, if I include Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you’ll realize that Kim is not motivated by love or esteem or self-actualization.
Safety and physiological needs are what matter to him. That’s why he desires to lead a peaceful life far away from trouble and ruckus. At the same time, this explains why Yoon Seungho never felt loved by his butler, as the latter was not focused on giving and receiving love. The irony is that the moment the domestic finally accepts the painter as his master’s lover (“let’s keep it this way”) implying that he will stop with his tricks, Heena noona barges in the mansion and creates a scandal, which he can only considers as a threat. Therefore the valet changes his mind. But more importantly, this scene is important for another reason. Kim is in the backyard working and this shows his true mindset. For me, he likes being alone, and it looks like he is hiding from others. It was, as if he feared the outside world, reminding us of the following remark: “he is weak in front of the outside world.” Moreover, the manhwalovers should recall my initial analysis about the valet. I compared him to a dog watching over the house. This interpretation fits totally. The courtyard is his world and he feels safe there. Therefore Byeonduck showed us many panels with Kim in the courtyard. (chapter 33) This explicates in my opinion, why Yoon Seungho is not willing to go to the capital. He doesn’t just fear old white-bearded men, his lack of motivation is strongly connected with Kim’s needs. The latter fears trouble, which stands in opposition to politics. If his master were to become an official, he would have to deal with other nobles and enter in conflict, which stands in opposition to Kim’s philosophy. That’s why the butler had an interest that his master remains as a man consumed by lust. He wouldn’t develop any desire and ambition. As you can see through the Maslow’s motivational hierarchy needs, fear and cowardice are somehow innate due to the survival instinct, yet by living in society, peoples’ life change, as through love and status, people feel the need to growth.
Now, I would like you to read this following quote, because it actually describes Kim’s personality so well:
“A fainthearted person lives hard, being in tension and leading a separate fictional life, he still does not get the events necessary for his personality. Those who often have to come into contact with such people are also very worried, because if you are in a dominant position, such a person will bend with fear (he will support you and love you surprisingly in the same combinations as you), but there is always a threat: you will be betrayed. It is impossible to know what such a person really wants, because he lives with an eye on those around him, but such attention does not reflect any desire to improve him. No, such a person will betray you and deny you, tell secrets or pretend that he or she is not familiar with you, as soon as the situation changes. Friendship and trust are out of the question, because these concepts require loyalty to the chosen person, nobility to him, immutability of their principles and courage.” quoted from http://fr.housepsych.com/malodushie_default.htm
What caught my attention first is the constant fear a coward is feeling. It is deeply rooted in him, and this explains why the valet would say this to the painter . The latter justifies his fear with the noble, while now I believe that it is more related to his state of mind. Since he has been living for so long in fear, he associates it to Yoon Seungho. That’s the reason why the valet always looks so frightened and tired. He is always in tension. Hence he always has dark circles. Another important detail in this quote is the importance of the coward’s attitude. He observes his surrounding to get knowledge. He feels the need to perceive their true personality and desires, and will mirror their reaction. This is particularly perceptible, when the butler calls Baek Na-Kyum as “no-good painter” and the head-maid describes him as a charlatan. This projection is implied with the following quote: ” he will support you and love you surprisingly in the same combinations as you “. However, this will never reflect his true emotions and thoughts, as a coward’s attitude is to avoid emotions. “Not feeling means not suffering”. That’s why Kim gives his master the following advice: Don’t take it to heart. Under this new approach, you understand why Yoon Seungho had a relapse. He was encouraged not to feel anything and as such not to face his fear… He never confronted the painter.
Moreover, by paying attention to people’s attitude, he can manipulate people in order to achieve his goal. He will never act in the open, but in the shadow, for he needs to keep his image of an obedient and loyal servant, while in reality he is only loyal to himself. By monitoring his surroundings, he is able to discover secrets (like f. example the future abduction or the ruining of a painting) and will use this for his own benefit. He will even deny a person: Note that here, Yoon Seungho has to defend himself and his honor, although the butler is well aware of the truth: his master was a victim.
Strangely is that the author from that website recommends to a person suffering from cowardice to start with voicing his own desires. Why? Such a person has already internalized that his dreams and ideas could never become true. In reality, the coward has no longer any wish. His mindset is only focused on self-preservation. Since they are asked to express their own wishes, they are forced to change their mindset. And this is not surprising that before the lord’s final transformation, Yoon Seungho started externalizing his own hopes:
- chapter 58:
- chapter 63: These were glimpses of a growing courage. He developed a dream and became motivated to obtain it. The manhwaphiles can recognize that thanks to his love for Baek Na-Kyum, Yoon Seungho was slowly moving up in the Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. The latter is already announcing the lord’s raising. There’s no doubt that he will reach the highest level: Self-actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences. A desire “to become everything one is capable of becoming”(Maslow, 1987, p. 64). quoted from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html#gsc.tab=0 The self-actualization corresponds to the moment when the Phoenix will truly shine.
Now, I would like to return to the testimony of the woman who witnessed a rape and did nothing. She was plagued with a guilty conscience, which led her to reflect on her own behavior. Therefore she forced herself to face reality and assume her responsibility for her own wrongdoings. She decided to make a short movie in order to encourage people to intervene. And this leads me to the following observation. The butler is a coward for another reason. He has never reflected on his own behavior. That’s why he says this: Repressing and forgetting is an important factor why Kim never reflected about his own behavior. His fear was too deeply internalized, at the same time he was always focused on the others, making sure to perceive people’s personality correctly. That way, he would be able to manage to survive. For him, manipulation has become an important of his survival instincts. This explicates why the servants listen to him, he always knows what he needs to say in order to convince them. (chapter 69) There’s no doubt that Yoon Seungho never gave such an order. He was already too happy that the painter had chosen to stay by his side. Besides, note what the domestic says: “He will have you killed”. In other words, he will give the order to eliminate the kisaeng. Yet we know for sure that Yoon Seungho killed the servant with his own hand. Therefore it displays that Kim was the one speaking behind this. This exposes that the butler considers the mansion as his propriety. Hence I come to the conclusion that Kim didn’t choose to follow his master out of loyalty for him, but because he had become comfortable in that mansion. But he had definitely other reasons, like for example following the eldest master’s order (on the surface).
Furthermore, he lets others commit the wrongdoings so that he can not really become accountable for this. This is perceptible in chapter 17, when he asks the maids not to approach the study, he knew that Jihwa was there. Let’s not forget that he lets Deok-Jae take the fall for the painter’s escape when he was clearly the one who talked to Jung In-Hun . By using the personal pronoun “we”, the jealous servant wanted the butler to become responsible as well, but Kim remained silent and even kept his distance from Yoon Seungho. That’s why I come to the deduction that Kim was really content with his life, until the painter showed up. First, he was the real master of the courtyard, but he never had to take any responsibility, as Yoon Seungho as a master would take the whole blame: he was a sodomite, a violent and bad master etc… On the other hand, Kim could dress outside as a noble, as he represented the lord. But if there was any trouble, then his master was the one responsible officially. Besides, if Yoon Seungho was changing, the butler would make sure that Jihwa would control his master. As you can see, he never had to assume any responsibility. And this leads me to the following observation, the lord started becoming brave thanks to his affection for the painter much earlier. He truly desired to become responsible for him. The manhwalovers shouldn’t forget that in that scene, Kim was not present. If he had seen this gesture, he would have realized the danger. That’s why he imagined that the moment Jung In-Hun had abandoned the artist, the latter would run away, as he had no reason to stay at the mansion in his mind. That’s why the door was left opened. He had no idea that “responsibility” was the trigger for Baek Na-Kyum to stay there. This word implied that the low-born was not perceived as a burden. In other words, cowardice is strongly related to responsibility. That’s the reason why the valet needs scapegoats (the amateur spy, Jihwa, Deok-Jae…) and lets others take the blame. He sees responsibility as a burden. Moreover, there is another reason why cowardice is linked to accountability. Scientists discovered bystander effect (in French it is called as “effet spectateur”). What is it exactly? One might think that the more people are witnessing a person in danger, the more highly the victim will be saved on time. But no… the truth is the more people are present, the less they will intervene. This is related to diffusion of liability. All the witnesses think that someone else will come and intervene. Therefore they all remain passive. This explicates why a woman could be raped in front of many people. No one felt responsible, as they waited for the intervention from the other beholders. And now, you might wonder why I am bringing this up. It is to show that courage won’t appear, if you are surrounded by people. Real courage occurs, when you have the impression that you are on your own. Let’s not forget that Kim has the support from his staff. He is even able to motivate and manipulate people with his words, hence he has definitely the power to use the staff in order to protect himself. And he actually did it. Deok-Jae was the one who suffered the most, while the butler had a bruised eye. That’s why I can’t accept Kim’s fear for his life as a justification for his cowardice. Besides, chapter 56 clearly reveals the butler’s role: he is an advisor, hence his words will be taken seriously.
As a conclusion, it shows that cowardice is not truly innate. Moreover, courage is learnable, yet it can only be nurtured in a good environment. That’s why it is important to protect children very early on, as safety helps them to develop other needs. Hence, the earlier they are exposed to danger, the higher the risk is that they become cowards and hypocrites. But more importantly, it truly shows Yoon Seungho’s strength and greatness. Although he was abused physically and sexually, exposed to the worst situations, he was not able to forget the importance of love. His desire to feel loved was the reason why he could overcome his traumas. He never gave up on love, which explicates why Yoon Seungho will be able to shine as a phoenix later. On the other hand, the valet only saw love as superfluous, as it could cause trouble. Note that the butler prefers being alone which coincides with his mentality. Only his life matters and no one else.
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