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“Duck Eggs” by Kye Yong-mook


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Man-geum cried when he heard his teacher’s plea to help the children who lost their parents during the war. 

He believed their plight was more dire than his own. He had lost his father, sister and their family home during last summer’s flood, leaving only his mother and himself to fend for themselves. 

His 100-hwan monthly tuition was already overdue, but he sincerely wanted to donate 50 hwan for the war orphans. After hearing about the fundraiser, Man-geum’s mother wanted to come up with the money but couldn’t.

쓸어보니 오리알은 한 알이 아니요, 세 알이나 대글거렸다.

만금은 그것을 학교 앞 거리 상점에 가져다 팔았으면

50환은 넉넉히 받을 수 있으리라는 생각이 머릿속에 떠올랐던 것이다.

He felt around to discover that there wasn’t just one, but three eggs. He suddenly hit upon an idea that these eggs could fetch at least 50 hwan if they were sold at the market. 

‘죄다, 남의 물건을 훔친다는 것은 죄다’ 

‘This is a crime. It’s a crime to steal someone else’s stuff.’ 

만금은 몇 번이나 이런 생각을 하고는 그 자리를 떠나려 하였으나

뒤미처 그의 눈앞에는 헐벗고 굶주려 우는 전쟁 고아가 나타났다.

그리고는 살려 달라는 듯이 자기의 어깨에도 그들이 무수히 달려와서

매어달리는 것 같은 환상이 눈앞에 어릴 때,

그의 손은 어느 새 벌써 오리알에 가 닿아서 떨리고 있었다. 

Man-geum repeated this admonition in his mind and tried to leave the eggs behind, but he was soon haunted by the vision of starving war orphans. They seemed to swarm him and hang onto his shoulders, begging to be saved. Before he knew what he was doing, he already held those three duck eggs in his shaking hands. 

# Interview with literary critic Jeon So-yeong

Man-geum must have experienced many different emotions and internal conflicts as he took those duck eggs and sold them at the market. Out of guilt, he donates all the money he got from selling the duck eggs. Man-geum’s inner conflict and behavior demonstrate the cruelty of the period when a good person cannot even help others through a moral and legal means. 

The author shows through this conclusion that the time was very paradoxical, because the person who should be condemned was not Man-geum, but grownups like the town official. Because of the official’s scheme, Man-geum had to resort to stealing in order to help others. Although his intentions were good, Man-geum was denounced for his actions and had to experience a heartbreak and humiliation. This scene represents the sad absurdity of altruistic people getting punished instead of selfish and greedy people. 

선생은 돈 60환을 테이블 서랍에서 꺼내어

책상 위에 다 휙 밀어던졌다.

The teacher took out 60 hwan from the drawer and threw the money down on the desk. 

“다시 그런 못된 짓을 어디 또 해 봐라.

 이 자리로 당장 그 오리알을 물러다가 윤초시댁에 가져다 드려” 

“Don’t you dare do such thing again. You buy back the duck eggs and take them to the official’s house right now.” 

선생의 손 끝에서 힘있게 밀리는 돈이 

눈 앞으로 미끄러져 들어오는 순간,

만금은 갑자기 설움이 북받쳐 울음을 어찌할 수가 없었다.

들먹이는 어깨 따라 가다듬었던 눈물이 또 다시 주르르 흘러내리며

지전 위에 뚝뚝 떨어졌다.

The moment his teacher pushed the money toward him, Man-geum couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. Jolted by his quivering shoulders, the teardrops fell on the banknotes. 

“냉큼 집어 들고 나가지 못해!” 

“Take the money and get out!” 

만금은 말없이 떨리는 손으로 돈을 움켜 들었다.

Man-geum silently took the money in his shaking hands. 

어제 저녁 상점에서 오리알과 바꿔 들었을 때의 

그 돈과의 감정의 교차를 손 안에 느낄 때 

만금은 가슴이 찢어지는 듯하였다.

He felt his heart break as he remembered the array of emotions experienced when he had received the money in exchange for the duck eggs last night. 

힘없이 발길을 돌리는 걸음 좇아 

마룻바닥 위에 점점이 떨어지는 말간 눈물방울을

만금은 밟고도 또 떨어뜨리고 

떨어뜨리고는 또 밟으며 무거운 걸음을 옮겨 놓고 있었다.

Man-geum’s clear tears dotted the floor, trailing his steps. He shed tears and then walked heavily over those tears and then shed more tears and walked over them again.

Gye Yong-mook (Born in Sonchon, Pyonganbuk-do Prov., Sep. 8, 1904~Aug. 9, 1961)

Debuted with short story “Payback” in 1925

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