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TheWat erMi l l

NaDo-hyang Tr ans l at edbyJ aneKi m

The Water Mill By Na Do-hyang Translated by Jane Kim


Originally published in Korean as Mullaebanga in Joseon Mundan, 1925 Translation ⓒ 2013 by Jane Kim

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and Literature Translation Institute of Korea. The original manuscripts to these translations were provided by Gongumadang of Korea Copyright Commission.

The National Library of Korea Cataloging-in-Publication Data Na, Do-hyang The water mill [electronic resource] = 물레방아 / [written by] Na Do-hyang ; translated by Jane Kim. -- Seoul : Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 2013 p. ISBN 978-89-93360-27-1 05810 : No price 813.61-KDC5 895.733-DDC21



About Na Do-hyang Na Do-hyang’s (1902~1927) real name is Kyung-sohn and his pen name is Bin. He was born in 1902. After graduating from Baejae Normal High School, he was admitted to Kyeongseong Medical School but dropped out and went to Tokyo, Japan, to study literature, returning in 1919 to teach at an elementary school in Andong for one year. He began his literary career in 1921, publishing “Leaving Home” (Choolhyang) in the Baejae School Newspaper (Baejae Hakbo) and later on, his short story “Memory” (Chueok) in the People’s Opinion (Shimin Gongrohn). In 1922, as a member of the literary coterie magazine The Swan (Baekjo), he published his work “The Seasons of a Young Person” (Jeolmunieui Shijeol) in its first edition. In 1925, with the publication of his artistically mature pieces like “The Water Mill” (Mullaebanga), “Mulberry” (Bbong), and “Mute Sam-ryong” (Beongeori Samryong), he received much attention as a writer. He died on August 26, 1927. His full-length novel, “Mother” (Uhmuhni) (1939) was published posthumously. In his early years, his writings reflected an emotional and artistic world, but his later works like “The Water Mill” were much more realistic and used short story elements. He is considered to be the representative author of the Colonial Period, for he clearly depicted the dark realities of that time. Published in September of 1925 in the Joseon Mundan, “The Water Mill”, along with his other short story “Mulberry”, is the most representative of his realistic writing style. Like Kim Yu-jeong’s “April Showers” (Sonakbi) and Yi Hyo-seok’s “When the Buckwheat Flower Blooms” (Maemilkkot Pil Muryup), it is a work that illustrates a tragic love affair that happens at the water mill. In other words, this piece depicts the passionate crime that involves Shin Chi-kyu, a wealthy and powerful man in the village, his farmhand and servant Lee Bang-won, and Lee Bang-won’s wife. Although we see aspects of class conflict in “The Water Mill”, it is fundamentally a piece that realistically illustrates the intrinsic nature and sexual desire of man. “The Water Mill” paints a vivid picture of man’s greed for material wealth, his sexual instincts, and the poverty that exists, as well as the feelings of loss that result from it. It is a piece that graphically exposes the dark reality of the Colonial Period and the nature of man that originated from it.


The Water Mill

1. When the water, sucked into the drainpipe with a thump, thump, spills over the heavy water wheel again and is thrown inside with a thud, the laborers’ snorts are heard pitifully from inside the mill where the white chaff settles in layers. Swish, swish, swish, the water turns into marbles, then into silver dust, then stretches out like bamboo stalks and rushes along with a bang, becoming blue and white dragons, gushing towards the corner of a mountain for ten li before coming back to penetrate the center of a field, passing by the bank of Bang-won’s neighborhood where there is a water mill. The wealthiest, most powerful man in the large village between north and east, visible if you look out from the water mill, was a man by the name of Shin Chi-kyu. Lee Bang-won was the farmhand at Shin’s house, cultivating his land and living in the back house with his wife. One autumn evening when an especially bright moon shines tranquilly over the silent village, the voices of a woman and man are heard talking by the water mill. The woman is the twenty-two-year-old wife of Bang-won, at the happiest time of her life when passion burns within her chest. The old man, at over fifty-five years of age, is reaching the end of his life’s journey, heading into the pit of decline. He sounds as if he is trying to console the woman. “Come now, there isn’t much to what I’m saying, right? I’m sure you heard all the details from the old woman, but think about it. I’m telling you, if you say yes, I’ll do anything for you. Even if you live a hundred years with that Bang-won, you won’t get anything more than a corner seat in the village. Really, you’ll die without experiencing luxury if you don’t experience it when you’re young. There’s nothing wrong with what I’m saying. I heard the gist of what you said from the old woman, but I still wanted to hear it directly from you. That’s why I wanted to meet you here. What do you say? Now, now, don’t be shy. You can tell me everything.” No two words are necessary to know that this old man is Shin Chi-kyu. He looks at Bangwon’s wife with lustful eyes as he pats her on the back. The girl’s prim face, dark, long eyebrows, eyes deep as the dark blue sea, pretty lips set at the edge of her face, sullen cheeks, a high nose, together with her tall and slender height, as well as her wide hips, make it easy to judge that she is both a shrewd and pleasure-seeking woman. The girl is silent as she gives a charming smile, while raising her face in a shy and coy manner. That smile satisfies and arouses the brute Shin to such a degree that he moves closer to the girl, his grizzled beard nearly touching her cheek. “Huh? Why no answer? Is it because you’re embarrassed? There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.” He grabs her hand. “Oh, I didn’t know until now how beautiful your hands 4

were. They’re like silk. It’s a shame that a nice, gentle girl like you would rot away with that good-for-nothing Bang-won. Such a pity.” The girl does not turn away, but stands with her eyes cast down, letting the old man do as he pleases. In the end, she opens her mouth and says, “Granny asked everything on my behalf. I don’t dare talk about it.” “Excuses, excuses. What is that supposed to mean? Hey, I’m not just playing around here. You know I’m doing this because I have no son. I was hoping you’d bear one for me. Then wouldn’t everything that belongs to me become yours? Come now, why don’t you say yes? If you let me, I’ll kick Bang-won out as early as tomorrow and bring you in.” “How are you going to throw him out?” “That won’t be difficult. What can he do if I tell him to leave?” “But don’t you think that’s going too far?” “What’s going too far? That’s why you’re still stuck with him, it’s because you think like that. What’s wrong with what I just said? Don’t you worry yourself over that. Come on, let’s hurry inside before your husband catches us.” “Why don’t you go ahead?” “What?” “If someone sees us, it will look suspicious.” “So what if we look suspicious? You’re with me. Let’s go.” The girl follows the old man from about two steps behind when she suddenly stops and yells, “Master!” “What’s the matter?” The girl stands there silently and finally says, “It’s nothing.” Then before she turns away, she says again, “Please go in first.” The old man impatiently grabs her hand. “Come on, let’s go into the house.” His breathing gets heavier, as if his heart is racing. The girl tries to pull her hand away. “Hold on. You’re a respectable man, what are you trying to do?” Despite her words, her actions seem to say that she is giving permission to everything. The old man embraces the girl and turns, heading towards the back of the water mill. From within his embrace, she looks up at him with eyes full of desire. “Master,” she says and swallows hard. “You wouldn’t lie, would you?” “No.” His voice trembles. With one hand, the girl holds onto his arm and with the other hand, she points to the inside of the water mill. “Please go inside.” About half an hour later, the old man and girl step out from inside the water mill.


2. When three days pass, Shin Chi-kyu calls Bang-won to his courtyard. Bang-won bows his head before his master. “Did you call?” he asks humbly. “I am thankful for all the hard work you’ve done, but …” Shin Chi-kyu trails off with a dignified air. Realizing what is to come after the word “but,” Bang-won feels all his blood rush towards his heart, as though all his hair is standing on end. “You see, something’s come up, so why don’t you leave and look for a better place?” There are no other conditions. There is nothing else to say. If the master asked his servant to die, the servant had to at least feign death. The master had the power to buy and sell people with money. Bang-won doesn’t know what to do. If he only has himself to worry about, he can always beg for food to get by, but how about his loving wife? He needs to save her. Bang-won first bows his head, then he bows from the waist, and then even from his heart, in order to beg and plead. But all of it is in vain. Shin Chi-kyu’s heart is harder than iron and stone. Left with no other choice, Bang-won tells his wife the news. He asks her to try pleading with the lady of the house so that they would be able to stay on a little longer. But his wife has no intention of listening to him. Instead, she says, “What are you going to do? How are you going to feed me and look after me from now on?” “Are you afraid I won’t be able to look after your basic needs?” “Of course I am. Think about it. We have no choice. We’re going to die.” “Die?” “Do you remember what you to me said when you first brought me here? You said you would provide for me no matter what.” “Right.” “Just look at how well you’ve provided for me so far, just look at all the luxury you’ve treated me to. Dragging me around to live in the servants’ quarters of someone else’s house—is that your idea of luxury?” “Look here, do you think I don’t know? Did this happen because I didn’t try? Some kind of work is bound to come up along the way. Surely we won’t grow old and die like this!” “I don’t want to hear it! Maybe something will come up in a million years.” Bang-won is already upset, but his wife merely adds fuel to his burning anger. “You cruel bitch! Why are you doing this?” “Why are you swearing at an innocent person?” “So what if I swear a little, you bitch?” “Why are you swearing?” The girl’s face turns yellow as she fights back. “Are you a baby?” “Who’s the baby? Look at you, swearing at the woman you can’t even take care of. Have you ever bought me a silver ring or a hairpin? And I’ve done everything you’ve ever asked!” 6

“Silver rings and hairpins—that’s what you really want? You dirty bitch!” “Who are you calling dirty? As if you’re one clean bastard.” With that, the word “bastard” begins to flow from the girl’s mouth. “What did you call me?” With that, Bang-won grabs her hair and lifts her clear off the ground. He then pounds her twice on the spine with his fist. “You’re asking for it, you bitch!” He kicks her in the rear-end twice, knocking her to the ground, but she gets right back up. Her disheveled hair is sticking out everywhere and there is venom in her quivering eyes. “Why are you hitting me? You bastard! Kill me, why don’t you? Go ahead kill me! We’ll keep fighting until one of us is dead!” He pushes the attacking woman aside. “Oh, you’re really desperate to die, aren’t you?” Hitting his wife was a kind of joke Bang-won played with his fists. But each time his fist or foot struck the girl, he felt an intense, piercing pain stab him in the middle of the chest, a pain perhaps even more severe than what the girl felt. Bang-won was a rather sad, pathetic man, because to him, hitting his wife in a fit of rage was no different than biting off his own heart with his teeth. But the girl was the only person he could spend his anger on. This wasn’t because she was a pushover, but because he could truly be himself. After their fights they would not let a day pass, but the two would arrange their pillows side by side and hold each other close, and they would fall asleep grateful and deeply comforted. After Bang-won’s anger was spent, when he would feel deep pangs of regret while passionately embracing the girl, he felt strengthened; it was a time when he could reconfirm his passionate trust in her. The girl raises her voice, bawling louder. All the people in the village strain their ears and say, “Those two are quarreling again!” In truth, they envy the love quarrels. The youngster from next door peeks in with a smile and says, “Now give it a rest, you two,” as though he is trying to stop the fight. Only the neighborhood children gather in front of the yard, watching with eyes wide open.

3. That evening, Bang-won returns home drunk. The anger that drove him to hit his wife earlier had disappeared at some point, and in his drunken state, his longing to hold her made him want to apologize to her. In essence, he was a good, kind-hearted, and affectionate man. He did stupid things because of the ignorant way in which he had been raised, but ultimately it was not a reflection of his character. Staggering home, he lets his drowsy eyes close and he says to himself, “That arrogant fool! If he tells me to go, I’ll go! What have I to fear? Is there nowhere else to live other than his house? Does he think I can’t find something else? Does he think he can do anything, because he


has money? Damn you, you go on like that and you’ll get a taste of my fist one day! You think nothing will happen to you?” After jumping over a creek, he cries, “Money! What is money?” After thinking about it for a long while, he lets out a sigh and says, “Money kills people! Money! Money! People came before money, not the other way around! It’s people first, not money!” After clumsily crossing a stream on stepping-stones, he says, “That good-for-nothing woman. Why does she have to insult me like that and cause me so much pain?” His tone carries an indescribable tenderness. As though thoughts of her has wiped out all of his complaints, he lifts his head and looks to the heavens. “She’s had a hard life, too.” He lowers his head again and says, “Yes, I was too harsh. I shouldn’t have done that.” Upon arriving home, he grabs the door handle and shakes it. “Hey! Are you sleeping?” But there is no answer and the room remains dark. “Where the hell did she go?” After nearly breaking down the door, he shuts the door again. He comes back out onto the street and goes to his next-door neighbor. “Hey there! Did you happen to see where my wife went?” The couple, who are in the middle of dinner, says, “Threw back a few drinks again, didn’t you? Your wife got all dressed up and headed to that mill over there.” “The mill?” “Yup.” “That stupid woman!” he mumbles to himself, as he heads towards the mill. “Why the hell would she go there? What could she be looking for?” Just as he goes around to the back of the mill, he sees Shin Chi-kyu and his wife step out from inside. “Ah!” It is such an inconceivable sight that he can only stare dumbly after them for a long time. His eyebrows hike in anger. As his anger bubbles over, his eyes redden as though they are painted scarlet; they flash like lightning. He stands trembling for a long time. His teeth clatter together. His fists are clenched so hard to the point his knuckles become crushed. At first, Shin Chin-kyu and the girl are taken aback when they see Bang-won standing there, but they quickly calm themselves. It is as though they feel like it is just as well, now that things have come to this point. Bang-won springs forward and grips his wife’s wrists. He clenches his teeth and shudders. “I never imagined you would do this.” The woman says, “Do what?” She glares at him with cold eyes. “You haven’t seen anything yet. You only figured out now that I’d do this? Let go of me! What are you doing, laying your filthy hands on me like this? You can’t tell me what to do from now on! If a woman says no, you should leave her alone. What is this unmanly behavior? Let go of me!”


She tries to jerk her arm away, but he burns with anger and does not easily let go. “Are you serious?” “You think I would try expensive food and then lie about it? Of course I’m serious!” “You’re out of your mind!” “Who are you calling crazy? Of course this seems unbelievable to you. Let me go! Let me go! Why are you being so stubborn? Let me go!” As she struggles to shake him off, her hand comes loose. The woman rubs her wrist and turns away bitterly. Shin Chi-kyu, who had been watching this spectacle from a distance until now, takes a couple of steps forward and says with an awkward cough, “Hey! What is the meaning of this? If you’re drunk, you should have the sense to turn in early. Do you have no manners? If the two of you are going to fight, do it somewhere else. Don’t you even see whose presence you’re in?” He raises his voice and glares at Bang-won. “You disgraceful fool, you should be ashamed of yourself!” Bang-won stands still, staring wordlessly. What he wants to do is to punch Shin Chi-kyu and knock him out for good, but in his head there still remains some notion that Shin is his master. And this thought, like a flash of lightning, paralyzes his mouth and arms. Having served people his entire life from an early age, in Bang-won’s heart is a deep-rooted fear of his master. However starting from today, Shin Chi-kyu was no longer his master, and he—Bang-won—was no longer Shin’s servant. They faced each other, equally, as men. No, from now on, Shin Chi-kyu was Bang-won’s enemy. And it would remain that way forever, even if he were to rip out Shin’s liver and eat it. Shin Chi-kyu stares back at Bang-won, who continues to glare at him, and says, “What do you think you’re doing, staring at me like that? I tell you, the world is coming to an end. Just look at all the strange things that are happening. What is it, you fool?” “You fool?” Bang-won takes a step forward. When his strong, tree-like legs approach Shin, the hair on Shin’s head stands on end. His heart sinks, as he sees Bang-won raise his fists that are like iron clubs. “How dare you call me a fool? Even if I ripped off your limbs, it wouldn’t be enough! You told me to leave today so that you could steal my wife, didn’t you?” “Hey, you sure have a twisted way of seeing things. Hey girl, I’m heading in first. You come later with your husband!” As Shin Chi-kyu tries to slip away from the dangerous situation, Bang-won grabs him by the collar and lifts him off the ground. “Where do you think you’re going? I guess you’ve never gotten a taste of what was coming!” He throws Shin to the ground and beats him. He then sits on top of him and starts to strangle him. Unable to say a word, Shin screeches. Shin looks like a frog that is being swallowed up by a snake. “You fool, why don’t you and I both die?”


With that, Bang-won starts to beat Shin blindly. Later, he finds that his fists are not enough and picks up an anvil lying nearby and slams it down on Shin, as though to kill him for good. His arms and body reach their highest point of rage, and the cruelty that resides inside every heart of man is completely unleashed. His eyes are like those of a hunting dog when it has caught its prey; they gleam frighteningly in satisfaction as they witness blood. A terrible, supernatural strength overtakes his arms and legs. The girl is terrified. Something horrible is imminent. She cannot control her legs as they give way under her. “Help! Please! Somebody, help!” In the middle of a lonely night in a solitary village, her voice echoes chillingly. Hearing her cries, Bang-won shuts his eyes and musters even more strength with the intent to kill. The sound of bone being smashed by stone and the thud of flesh. Rocks covered with blood scatter in all directions and Shin’s torn clothing becomes stained with flesh. Whispers are heard coming from the direction of the village, as well as the shuffling of boots and the rattle of knives. Something like lightning flashes across Bang-won’s mind. With his hands still clenched, Bangwon comes to himself and listens in the direction of the noise. “The police.” It’s only when he recognizes the officers’ footsteps while still sitting atop Shin Chi-kyu that he finally realizes what he has done. He bolts to his feet like a mad man. He goes to his wife who stands shaking uncontrollably. “Hey, let’s go! Let’s get out of here! You and me, let’s run away together! Now! Come on!” The woman, afraid he might do something to her, tries to escape, but Bang-won goes after her. “Hey! Hey! What are you doing? Don’t you know how I feel about you? Now, let’s get out of here! Hurry! The police is coming!” The woman backs up and says, “No! I’m not going with you!” “Let’s go! Come on!” Like a mad man, he grabs her arm and drags her behind him. Right then, someone yanks his arms from behind, the way you would tie someone on the rack. “You criminal! Where do you think you’re going?” He doesn’t have to turn around to know it is the police. When all his strength drains from his body and he feels as though he would keel over, fists that feel like wood planks strike his face without mercy. “Wake up.” “Sure thing.” Bang-won’s head slumps forward and his words became docile. On the ground, Shin Chi-kyu squirms sluggishly. A pitiful scream is heard. Bang-won, bound by rope, and the woman, just as she is, are led to the police station. Shin Chin-kyu is carried off by some servants.


4. Three months pass. Bang-won serves his sentence for assault and is eventually released from prison. However, Shin Chin-kyu recovers at home and takes Bang-won’s wife to live with him as though nothing happened. After he makes a full recovery, Shin Chin-kyu thinks to himself, “I thought I was going to die, but look at me now!” He touches the scar on his face and thinks, “What that fool did actually served me well, although my face still hurts a little! Ha ha. And just as I was worrying about how to get rid of him. It all worked out for the best. I hope he spends about ten years in prison.” In prison, Bang-won had decided that he would kill the two of them upon his release and bring the whole matter to a close. The thought of being kicked out of his house and getting his wife stolen made him gnash his teeth and shake with rage. On top of that, when he thought that everything happened because he had no money, he became even angrier. “Filthy bitch.” Even when he worked, in chains and dressed in the red prison pants, he spat on the ground and muttered to himself, “What is the point of living like this? A man gets his wife stolen from him and he’s the one who has to do time …” On the day he is released, he takes one last look around the prison grounds and lets out a bitter laugh with all the strength that he can muster, thinking about his impending end, whether it is better to end his life in prison or take his own life by slitting his throat. He walks a distance of 200 ri and finally arrives at his old village. However, not a single soul pretends to know him. Even those he had been close to avoid him when they see him, treating him the way they would a leper. The world has become a colder, crueler place since his release from prison. Left with no other choice, he wanders in the neighboring mountains until nighttime and only returns to the village in the deep of night. He passes the mill once again. He remembers what happened there three months earlier. When he thinks about how he had been taken, feelings of injustice and rage rise up, even more intense than before. He stands for a long time, thinking of what happened, and when he becomes thoroughly repelled by the thought, he makes his way to his old home. The day is extremely cold and the snow is piled high. He is dressed in the fall clothes he had on when he’d been taken away, but he doesn’t even notice the cold because of the fury in his heart. “Should I do away with them both?” He ponders for a while. “Yes, what’s the good in letting them live? They’re worthless.” He touches the long knife fastened to his side. He strokes it with excitement. He climbs over the walls of Shin Chi-kyu’s house. His feet are as familiar with the place as before. He peeks into the guest room and then comes back and stands under the window of the opposite room. He listens intently, but no sound can be heard. He takes out the knife and holds it in his hand. He shakes the back window.


“Who’s there?” says his wife, as she opens the door and pokes her head out. He quickly hides. The door closes and the woman returns inside. Bang-won’s heart becomes strangely agitated. When he hears his beautiful wife’s voice again after such a long time, he feels as though he is being enticed by her charm and sensuality, just like the dreams he’d had in prison. It is as though he is meeting her in his dreams, and all his resolve seems to melt away like ice. Still, when he thinks about their last encounter and how she intended to forget him for good, it makes him uncertain about what to believe. Even though she had gone so far as to lock him up in prison, he can’t muster the courage to kill her. “No, let’s ask her again!” He pulls out the knife again and thinks, “No, no, it’s a lie. A lie! It’s all a lie!” He doesn’t know what to think. “All right. I’ll just ask her once more and then decide if I should kill her or let her live!” He shakes the door again. She opens the door and after scanning her surroundings, she steps outside in a pair of old straw shoes. “Who’s there?” Right when she is about to turn from the corner of the house where Bang-won is standing, he says, “It’s me!” He covers her mouth and holds the knife to her chest. “Speak and you die!” Bang-won gags her mouth with a towel and ties her up, carrying her off like lightning. He takes her to the mill, puts her down and unties her. He lets out a sigh. “You don’t recognize me?” In the darkness, he thrusts his face right up to her nose. After looking at his face closely, she screams and draws back. “There’s no need to be surprised. If you listen to me, I’ll let you live. But if you don’t, it’s this.” He thrusts his knife at her. Again the woman calms down straight away and says, “Listen to you? If I was going to listen to you, wouldn’t I have done it already? Why would I have waited until now? You know how I feel. Don’t you remember how we ran away and came here two years ago, from my exhusband who tried to kill me by stabbing me in the waist, don’t you remember how you stroked my scar every night? You think I won’t do what I want because I’m scared of some knife? What kind of disgraceful act is this? You’re not even a man! Here! Go ahead and stab me! Stab me!” The woman thrusts out her chest and moves closer. Speechless at her daring, Bang-won nearly draws back his knife. Without thinking, he says, “Are you serious?” He takes a step closer. “Of course I’m serious! I may be just a woman, but I’m not a coward like you! What are you trying to do?” Perhaps she is a little frightened, because she strikes Bang-won’s hand and the knife falls to the ground. When the knife hits the ground, the woman who appeared like a warrior to Bang-won until now suddenly seems pitiful and dirty. He picks up the knife and threatens her again. 12

“Damn it, you sneaky little bitch! What do you plan on doing? Why don’t we run away together, huh? Come on, let’s go!” With teary eyes, he pleads and tries to reason with her. “Come on, let’s run away together like we did a long time ago! I just can’t kill you with this knife!” The woman’s eyes fill with rage. Their brilliant luster lights up the dark night like lightning. “I’d rather die than go with you! I don’t want to live such a pathetic, lowly life anymore. I’m sick of it.” “How can you say those things to me? You made it impossible for me to go back to my hometown, you made me lose everything I owned. And then on top of that, you made me go to prison, which people say is hell on earth! And still you refuse to listen to me?” “I knew I would die by your hands one day! Here! It’s all the same whether I die today or tomorrow, so just go ahead and kill me.” “You mean that? You mean it?” “Yes!” The woman shows her resolve. Bang-won’s hand trembles. Closing his eyes, he shouts, “You conniving bitch!” He pushes the tip of the knife into her side with all his strength. She clenches her teeth and yells, “Murder!” With just one cry, she collapses on the spot. Blood gushes out over his shaking hand that is holding the knife. Bang-won pulls out the knife and falls on top of her, stabbing himself in the chest, and thus ends his life.


The water mill  

Na Do-hyang is considered to be a representative author of colonial Korea, for he clearly depicted the dark realities of that time. “The Wat...

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