OWL Magazine Korea

The Small Ball Launched by the Slingshot by Jo Se-hee

Jo Se-hee’s novel “The Small Ball Launched by the Slingshot” can be introduced as a significant work in the history of Korean literature. It is frequently mentioned in textbooks, and readers often encounter it when exploring literature.

Personally, I believe I have come across this book at least three times. I encountered it in high school or earlier, naturally coming across this novel. Later, during my military service and while preparing for civil service exams, I revisited it. Additionally, during my senior year at Sungkyunkwan University majoring in English literature, I encountered it again in a class titled “Understanding Eco-literature.”

“A portrayal of the negative aspects of South Korea’s industrialization in the 1970s”

The novel vividly depicts the negative aspects of industrialization and industrial development in South Korea during the 1970s. It sharply portrays the contrasting lives of laborers and capitalists in the process of industrialization.

In the story, there is a scene where the family of the protagonist, the slingshot wielder, sees their house being demolished. Interestingly, the author, Jo Se-hee, had a similar experience in real life. After witnessing his house being torn down, he went to a stationery store and started writing, eventually creating “The Small Ball Launched by the Slingshot.”

When writing, Jo Se-hee placed photographs depicting the negative aspects of 1970s industrialization all around his house. This effort aimed to capture the reality of South Korea at that time more realistically. Additionally, the author personally met with the late Chairman Chung Ju-young but faced challenges in achieving his intended goals.

“Jo Se-hee’s presence at the 2009 Yongsan 4th District demolition site”

In 2009, a tragic fire occurred at the Yongsan 4th District demolition site in Seoul, resulting in casualties. Jo Se-hee, the author, was reportedly present at the scene. Witnessing such events from the past recurring in the modern era was described as heartbreaking, and the author shed tears.

“An ecological novel depicting humans dominated by the environment”

From a literary perspective, this work can be considered an ecological novel. It portrays the helplessness of individuals unable to overcome their inherent environment and emphasizes the importance of love amid the dehumanizing effects of desires.

“Utilizing the technique of stark contrast”

The novel prominently employs the technique of stark contrast. It divides the world in the story into two contrasting realms—symbolized by desire and capital on one side and exploited laborers sacrificing themselves on the other. The slingshot wielder’s world is portrayed as a place where everything is divided into opposing forces. One side represents desire and capital, eventually leading to machines. On the opposing side, there are laborers who are exploited and sacrificed, depicted as beings solely needing physical strength. The protagonist, the slingshot wielder, is described as both a madman and an animal. However, in this world, there is “love.”

Jo Se-hee uses a fairy-tale-like dichotomy to portray this world. The slingshot wielder’s world can be summarized as a “world devoid of love, where only desire without love exists.”. The opposite of desire without love is “desire with love.” Every individual has desires, and it can be argued that anyone without desires does not exist. In Buddhist terminology, the term for enlightenment is “extinguishing the flames,” signifying the moment when desires vanish. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that all living beings possess desires.

While desires are inevitable, the key point is that there should be “love” within those desires. The absence of love in a land results in a world where not only humans but everything suffers.

“In a world of division, who do we belong to?”

Ultimately, the work displays the lives of people in a world divided dichotomously, experiencing different environments. It leaves us with the question: “Who are we? Are we the slingshot wielder or the giant?”

“A world of repeating divisions”

In the past and present, we continue to live in a world divided into two. Wealth concentrates on a minority, and the polarization between haves and have-nots is increasing. This is exacerbated as we transition from the analog era to the digital era. Beyond educational opportunities, assets are accumulating digitally, rising and falling as “indexes.” Essentially, if the overall quantity of assets is increasing, those who already have more are likely to experience a greater rise.

Entering the years 2023 and 2024, the world is once again moving toward a bipolar atmosphere. Concepts of left and right, and the polarization of ideas, are intensifying. The 2010s were an era of global integration, but the 2020s are becoming a period of division. The U.S.-China power competition, the Russia-Ukraine war, and conflicts in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas are all part of this trend. Our lives today, living in a divided world, are not significantly different from the 1970s.

Beyond a world of division, is it possible to progress toward a society where the greatest happiness for the greatest number is achieved without someone undergoing forced sacrifice? If there is a way, what might it be? This book provokes various thoughts and questions.

“The Small Ball Launched by the Slingshot”

  • Author: Jo Se-hee
  • Publication Date: July 10, 2000
  • ISBN13: 9788995151204
  • Yes24: Link