Written by students of FC1750.06
at Founders College, York University
Dr. Yi is divided in his loyalties, and that would all depend on who is in control. He served the oppressor during Japanese rule, and when the U.S. is the overlord, he donates a national treasure to the consul's collection without the slightest sense of guilt. Editor Lee compares the physician to a chameleon, changing his colors to match the world which surrounds him, no matter how servile his efforts are.
As he plays on different sides, he has been punished as an enemy when there is a change of government. He was imprisoned under the Soviet military occupation and eventually escaped to the South on the other side of the Thirty-Eighth Parallel. What has stayed with him is a seventeen-jewel gold watch given to him by an imperial university as a graduation prize. It is a legacy left behind by the Japanese and treasured by Dr. Yi. As his family is driven asunder by war and domestic discord, he has lost his wife and his first-born son. His second wife does not accept his daughter from the first marriage.
The reason why Kapitan Lee's daughter is marrying an American professor is not all that clear. Nami could be in love with the person or is following in her father's footsteps. She might be a chip of the old block, mindless of loyalty and always on the lookout for opportunities. The professor may be using her as a study object, and she may be using him as a passport to the U.S., away from Korea and a troublesome family.
Dr. Yi and his family do not elicit respect as some of the characters in "Flowers of Fire" and "Cranes" do. They either rebel against foreign encroachment or put aside their political allegiances to celebrate life. "One must shatter the shell of sterile egocentrism and devote one's life to the establishment of an authentic relationship with the world," says Editor Lee, who expresses both scorn for Dr. Yi's servitude and compassion for his predicament.
Chon, Kwangyong. "Kapitan Lee." In Flowers of Fire: Twentieth-Century Korean Stories. Ed. and trans. Peter Lee. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974, pp. 319-347.
Copyright © 1996 by the author. Information from this article should be attributed to the author.