Representation of Women in Historical Media: Tree with Deep Roots

So-Yi as she faces Chae-Yoon for an interrogation.

So-Yi as she faces Chae-Yoon for an interrogation.

The Korean Drama “Tree with Deep Roots”, like the novel Taiko, has fewer principle female characters, however, has more “active” women in the main storyline. Women in “Tree with Deep Roots” do not serve a certain time and place- such as domestic tasks- but appear to take on more leadership roles and this shows how women were able to have different roles in this period in Korea. It is also important to note that women in this drama tend to be more emotionally grounded than the men in this series, something that is not typically seen in western media. The character in “Tree with Deep Roots” that best fits this definition is So-Yi.

On Activity

So-Yi plays a crucial role in the drama’s story and is portrayed as well-rounded character. While So-Yi is one of the only series’ female characters, she is often shown and it is clear she has a defined role and job. She has a crucial role in developing Hangul, the Korean letter system due to her eidetic memory. She is sent by the king to complete dangerous jobs, contacting people in secret in his name. In episode 6, So-Yi is sent to Ban Chon to find the scholar Jang Seong-Soo despite the fact that it could be dangerous for him and for her. This counters the idea that women in this time period were restricted to roles of domestic life. While it would not be countering the idea of feminism to simply have women in domestic roles- they can be important no matter what they do- it is important to see what role that So-Yi takes in the story. Here, she is active in that she does jobs for Sejong. She is actively contributing and supporting the creation of Hangul for the sake of people she was once apart of.

On Emotions

So-Yi is also shown to be someone that emotionally balances other men. This is to say, it is her presence that helps bring sense and guidance to characters she is with. This is not just limited to her childhood relationship with Chae-Yoon (Ddol Bok) but also with King Sejong (Lee Do). In episode 5, her relationship with the king is elaborated as to portray the two of them almost like kin to one another. It is also made clear that Sejong blames himself for the death of So-Yi’s family, as well as many others, but So-Yi tries to tell him that it is not his fault (these events happen in episode 6). The portrayal of this relationship shows that Sejong and So-Yi are on equal respectable ground, where she can speak her mind- well, write her mind at that point- and be unafraid to challenge the king’s thoughts. This counters the idea that women are usually the emotional ones- in that scene that is being referred to, Sejong is the one getting angry and is the one who cries first. A western idea of masculinity cannot be used to define how men and women interact in this setting.

In Conclusion

While So-Yi is not the only woman present in “Tree with Deep Roots” that plays an active role in the storyline, she is the best character to represent the sort of role that women might have been able to have, and also best represents how a female character can be both important and strong in a feminist context.

Works Cited

Tree with Deep Roots. Writ. Lee Jung Myung. Dir. Jang Tao Yoo and Shin Kyung Soo. SBS, 2011. DramaFever.

Shin Se-kyung. N.d. Photograph. Photobucket. Web. Apr 14 2014.< >

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