Sejong (left) and Ddol (right), standing contently together
In Tree with Deep Roots, King Sejong‘s revolutionary vision of a new Joseon is conceived through personal turmoil and the desire to prove himself through the dynamics of two characters: his father (Taejong) and Ddol Bok.
Sejong and His Father
Taejong wants Sejong to rule Joseon the way he did; with force and power, but Sejong disagrees. Sejong wants to prove to his father that he will not be remembered as merely his successor, but as an individual with his own unique ideas. When Taejong is still alive in the show, their character dynamics form Sejong’s ambitious plans to make Joseon a place that it was never was before; a country ruled by knowledge, not force. This ambition is realized when Taejong sends him an empty lunchbox, which in that culture is an invitation to suicide. This forces Sejong to consider the invitation as a riddle, which he solves. Upon this revelation, Sejong says to his father, “You have taught me the method to solve any Su-Do-Ku [problem]” (episode 3). To which his father replies, “You must have found the answer and the way. Your Joseon.” Sejong always knew he wanted to rule differently than his father, but turning Taejong’s death order into a solvable puzzle motivated him to rule the country and tackle any rising problems. This confidence leads to later ambitious endeavors during his reign, mainly the creation of the Korean alphabet.
Sejong and Ddol Bok: Impressions from the First Encounter
Early in the show, Sejong comes across a helpless slave boy named Ddol Bok. The imperial army suggests that Sejong kill the boy, since he was an escapee from a slave revolt, but he chooses not to. His vision is ignited when he saves Ddol from being killed. He realized that the lower class citizens should not be treated like swine and should have a chance in the world along with the upper class. After saving him, Ddol angrily tells Sejong to “Cut the crap,” meaning he needs to improve his leadership as the king. Upon reflection, Sejong notes, “I was a king for a moment when I saved that child” (episode 2). Ddol lets him know that the lower class will not tolerate anymore cruelties from the ruling class as they did in the past. This utterance from Ddol sticks with Sejong for his entire life. It causes him to rethink power and humanitarian ethics in the country. This deep thinking eventually materializes into the Korean alphabet, a system that enables the lower class to learn to read.
Sejong and Ddol Bok: The Vision Realized
Later in the series, Sejong and Ddol motivate each other through this endeavor. Ddol originally finds drive in his life with a vendetta to get closer to the king to kill him. He believes it is Sejong’s fault that his father was killed. In the process, Ddol learns more about his true intentions; he is fighting for equality, not vengeance. Sejong provides this equality and proves his proficiency as a king by “cutting the crap” and completing the alphabet. When Ddol learns how to read the alphabet, he remarks, “It’s the first time I saw that life had something to offer” (episode 16). Sejong’s vision as a unique and progressive leader not only provided purpose to Ddol, but opened opportunities for the entire population of Korea through his monumental creation.
Tree with Deep Roots. Writ. Kim Young-hyun and Park Sang-yeon. Dir. Jang Tae-yoo. Seoul Broadcasting System, 2011. Web, Drama Fever.
Sejong’s Vision Realized through Character Dynamics by Brett Gubitosi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.