I am Woman, Hear Me Roar: Powerful Women in “Tree with Deep Roots”

So-yi assists King Sejong with the creation of the Korean alphabet in "Tree with Deep Roots"

So-yi assists King Sejong with the creation of the Korean alphabet in “Tree with Deep Roots”

“Tree with Deep Roots” is a very male-dominated Korean drama, something to be expected from a series that is based in 15th century Korea.  Yet, the female characters that are in the story have rather active and important roles.  Instead of making all of the female characters weak or helpless, the writers of “Tree with Deep Roots” have created some strong, independent women who not only make for a more dynamic show, but also help drive the plot in an interesting way.

The audience witnesses strong female characters from the very beginning of the series.  Episode one centers on King Taejong’s plan to murder the father of his daughter-in-law, the Queen.  She goes to her husband, King Sejong, and begs him to spare his life.  It’s a powerful, tearful moment, something that may not seem strong in the beginning; however, the Queen actually shows great strength here, more so than her husband.  The fact that she is able to approach the King and ask for this shows that she has courage.  This is later emphasized when she comes to King Sejong and tells him that her father has been killed and that he did so with honor.  In doing this, she is essentially telling King Sejong that this is his fault, that he was not a strong enough man to stop this.  By pointing out the King’s shortcomings and by calling him weak, the Queen is potentially taking a huge risk – he would have every right to retaliate.  But she refuses to allow him to sit back and think this will all just pass.  Instead, she knows she must show him how he was wrong in order to spur him into action because she does not have the power to do anything on her own.

The best example of a strong female character in “Tree with Deep Roots,” however, is So-Yi.  Though some might perceive her inability to speak as a weakness, her eidetic memory and ability to read and write prove she is anything but weak.  In fact, she is a key player in King Sejong’s mission to create a Korean alphabet because of her eidetic memory.  In addition to being a sort of advisor to King Sejong, So-yi is also trusted with important, discreet missions.  Because of her intelligence and loyalty, she is able to demonstrate her worth to King Sejong and proves to be an important character and pivotal in creating the Korean alphabet, King Sejong’s most important life work (and one of the key points of the show).

Though women in ancient East Asian culture were often minor characters, “Tree with Deep Roots,” goes against this norm and brings them to the front, and not purely in stereotypical female roles.  The drama not only gives women a role, but also gives them strong, independent parts that are key to the storyline of the show.



Jung-Myung, Lee, Kim Young-Hyun, and Park Sang-Yeon. “Episode 1.” Tree with Deep Roots. Dir. Jang Tae-Yoo and Shin Kyung-Soo. 5 Oct. 2011. Television.

Image:  HeadsNo2. “Tree with Deep Roots: Episode 16.” Review. Web log post.Dramabeans. N.p., Nov.-Dec. 2011. Web. 14 Apr. 2014

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This work by Spencer Barnardo is licensed under aCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.