Within the setting of Tree with Deep Roots, intelligence and knowledge were concepts strictly limited to a select group of people. However, as the Korean alphabet was created, education could be spread to the public. Because of the contextually controversial change, the representation of intelligence in Tree with Deep Roots is highly critical and undervalued.
The Opposition of Public Education
Originally, when the Chinese language was in place, only a select group of people could study and master it. Being lengthy, intricate and complex, it wasn’t likely that those beyond a group of scholars would have the time, energy or resources to learn it. Thus, the majority was kept uneducated and less likely to advance in life. When the possibility for an extension of education came about, there were a number of groups that opposed such a change for different reasons. Scholars could pride themselves on being the select few who had attained the most education, and if others could be educated like them, they wouldn’t be the select few and could lose such benefits attached. Similarly, rulers and royals could control the masses by keeping them uneducated; the smart someone is, the harder it can be to rule them. Essentially, any groups in power that could lose some of their power to the majority upon education would have reason to oppose the release of Hangul, the Korean letter system.
Upper-class Support of Public Education
Yet, they were some who supported the creation and spreading of Hangul. King Sejong, the creator of Hangul, is criticized from early beginnings about his pursuit of intellectual strength. King Sejong is criticized throughout his life for being more interested in academic pursuits than those of war. In episode two of Tree with Deep Roots, Sejong is mocked by his father Taejong for being weak and refusing to make violent choices. Later, Taejong and Sejong debate about the implementation of a library and scholarly center in the kingdom, as Taejong says that “the king might be the puppet to the noblemen if he practices too much discussion and indirect power sharing” (Deep Roots, Episode 2). As the series progresses, and King Sejong begins pursuing the group of Hidden Roots and the capacity to develop Hangul, he is questioned and censured by most of the parties he encounters (due to many of the reasons given above). Thus, the condemnation of King Sejong’s scholarly character throughout Tree with Deep Roots suggests that the time period is so incapable of accepting the change towards public education, that the king himself is constantly criticized.
Lower-class Perspective of Public Education
Additionally, other characters in Tree with Deep Roots like So-Yi are represented poorly as intellectual figures from lower classes. The perception of her smarts are only displayed simultaneously with her faults and her silence. In the first episode of Tree with Deep Roots, towards the end, Ddol-Bok, his father Seok-Sam and So-Yi (Dam-Yi at the time) receive a letter from Sejong to his father-in-law and are entrusted to take it. So-Yi reads the letter, presumably understands it, and sends Seok-Sam on to carry the letter. When it is revealed that the letter was switched and actually condemned Sejong’s father-in-law, he and Seok-Sam are killed. When confronted by Ddol-Bok, So-Yi reveals her incorrect reading of the letter, and then vows to remain mute from that point to repent for her mistake. In this instance, So-Yi pretends to be silent because of mistake in her judgment. The group relied upon So-Yi for her intelligence, and her error cost her a man’s life. Throughout the series, as So-Yi is used for her intellectual prowess, she still remains silent to convey the unimportance of her skills.
Furthermore, when considering the time period and the context of Tree with Deep Roots, it is not surprising that the major perspective of those in power consider public education to be harmful. The depiction of both upper class members like King Sejong and lower class persons like So-Yi show that intelligence was not a characteristic of pride during this time, and it would take the implementation of Hangul and more to change this point of view.
Tree with Deep Roots. SBS. South Korea. 5 Oct. 2011. Television.
The Talking Cupboard. “[RECAP] TREE WITH DEEP ROOTS – EPISODE 2″. The Talking Cupboard. WordPress. Web. 14 April 2014.
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