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.

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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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Painter Of The Night: “Spring Awakening” part 2

This is where you can read the manhwa.   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:

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.

Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug von Heinrich Hoffmann
This is a story from the Struwwelpeter written by Heinrich Hoffman. As you can see, the girl plays with the matches. Her disobedience leads to her death. She gets burnt. The lesson is that if you should listen to your parents’ words because if not, you can die. These lessons are quite gruesome but reflect the mentality of that period. Fear is used as a tool to get submissive students.

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,

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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.

Feel free to comment. If you liked it, then retweet it or push the button like. Thanks a lot. I would like to say that so far, Byeonduck has liked 6 analyses and retweeted 12 so far which represents a great reward for me.