Hwang Sun Won (황순원)'s The Shower (소나기) - A Poignant Story of A Fledgling Love Gone Tragic

Boy and Girl

The Shower (소나기), a short story written by the acclaimed author Hwang Sun Won (황순원, 1915-2000) in 1953, may be the most heart tugging tale ever touched the Korean hearts. It comes down to the most innocent and pristine part of the human heart as it involves a boy and a girl at a tender young age, love which is the most precious of all human emotions, and the irony of fate which most of us, if not personally encountered, at least witness at one time or another in our lives. It is one of the shortest of the short stories, almost like a children’s fairy tale, yet touches our heart so deeply by its poignancy that only those with a heart of steel would not be moved by it.


Here is a plot summary of The Shower in twelve morsel paragraphs, which is roughly a 7 to 1 condensation of the original text.

소나기


한 시골 마을에서 열살 남짓의 소년이 개울가에서 물장난을 하고 있는 소녀를 만난다. 이미 들어서 알고 있던 소년은 소녀가 서울에서 돌아온 이제는 쇠락해버린 윤 초시네 집 아이라는 걸 대뜸 알아차린다.

소년은 소녀가 모르게 숨은 채로 물장난을 하는 소녀를 지켜본다. 소녀는 매일 개울로 나와 물장난을 하였고 소년은 마찬가지로 숨어서 지켜본다. 결국엔 소녀가 소년이 있음을 알아차리고 바보라고 놀리며 뛰어간다.

소녀는 마침내 나서서 자기 마음을 이상하게 설레게 했던 소녀를 만나 친해지게 된다. 시골과 마을에 대해 익숙치 않은 소녀에게 여러가지 얘기를 해준다.

하루는 소녀가 멀리 보이는 앞산에 가보자고 이끈다. 둘은 함께 가며 도중에 이런저런 꽃과 풀을 꺾고 허수아비들과 송아지와 놀며 시간을 보낸다.

돌아오는 길에 둘은 갑작스런 소나기를 만난다. 주위에 비 피할 곳을 찾지 못한 둘은 비에 흠뻑 젖는다, 소녀는 차가운 비에 입술과 어깨를 떨며 추워했다. 비를 피하며 둘은 모르는 사이에 더 가까워 진다.

소나기는 곧 지나가고 하늘은 갠다. 둘은 다시 길을 나선다. 소나기로 개울물이 불어나 징검다리가 잠겨 소년은 소녀를 등에 업고 개울을 건넌다.

그 뒤로 소녀는 보이지 않는다. 소년은 학교에서도 찾아보지만 소녀는 없다.

며칠 후 소년은 다시 개울가에서 소녀를 본다. 핼쓱해 보이는 소녀는 그 동안 앓았다고 말한다. 소녀는 그날 소나기를 맞은 탓이라고 하고 오늘도 나오면 안 되는데 너무 갑갑해서 나왔단다.

소녀는 자기 옷에 든 검붉은 물을 보여주며 무슨 물 같냐고 묻는다. 그리곤 그게 그날 소년에게 업혔을 때 그의 등에서 옮은 것이라고 한다. 그 말에 소년은 얼굴이 달아오른다. 소녀는 또 자기 집이 다른 읍으로 이사하게 됐다고 서운한 듯이 얘기해 준다.

소년은 소녀가 이사가는 것이 못내 아쉽고 슬프다. 어찌할 수 없는 소년은 소녀가 떠나기 전에 주려고 호두나무에서 호두나 따서 모아둔다.

이튿날 소년은 윤 초시네 집에 갔던 아버지가 어머니에게 하는 말을 우연히 듣는다. 소녀가 몹쓸 병으로 그만 죽었다고, 그 집에선 최근 형편이 어려워 약도 변변히 못 쓰고 아이를 보내버리게 됐다고.

아버지는 말하는 것이었다, 소녀가 생각이 깊어 제 입던 옷을 꼭 그대로 입혀서 묻어달라고 했다며.

* 아버지는 소녀가 어려운 집안 형편을 생각해 제 수의를 사지 않아도 되도록 그런 유언을 했다고 생각한 것이다.

The Shower


In a rural village, a boy of about ten years encounters a girl playing with water by a creek. He immediately recognizes her as the girl he heard about, who has just returned from Seoul, whose well known family, the Yoons, having recently fallen on a hard time.

Hiding from her view, the boy watches the girl who is wrapped in playing with the water. The girl comes to the creek everyday, where the boy continues to watch her without coming forward, until the girl notices his presence, shouts "fool!" at him and runs away.

The boy finally comes out and gets to know her, who he thought made his heart stir in a funny way. He tells her about the countryside and the village as she is not familiar with them yet.

One day, on the girl's whim, they go on an excursion together to a nearby mountain at a good distance. They spend time picking flowers and shrubs, playing with scarecrows and a cow cub.

On the way back they meet with a sudden, heavy shower. Unable to find a proper shelter they get soaked with rain. The girl takes it hard, lips trembling and shoulders quivering from cold. The two are drawn even closer while sheltering from the shower.

The shower soon passes and the sky clears. They continue on their way. The boy has to carry her on his back across the creek because the water rose from the shower to submerge stepping stones.

On the following days the girl is not to be seen anywhere. The boy looks for her at school to no avail.

After a few days he sees her again on the creek. Looking gaunt, she tells him she has been ill from catching a cold that day in the shower, and that she came out even though she really shouldn't have because she couldn't stand the stifling bed anymore.

She also shows him a dark brown stain on her sweater, asking him what he thinks it might be. She then tells him that it came from his back when she piggy-backed on him that day, at which the boy blushes. Then she goes on to tell him she and her family are moving to another village, looking rather unhappy.

The boy feels so hollow and sad for the thought of her moving away. With nothing he can do, he just goes and picks a bunch of walnuts to give her before she goes away.

The next day he happens to overhear his father, just back from a visit to the girl's family, talking to his mother. He laments the Yoons have lost her to the illness, unable to provide a decent treatment because they have fallen so destitute.

Then his father adds she was precocious, that he heard the girl made a wish to be buried in the same clothes she was wearing,

* The boy's father thought the girl made such a wish to save her poor family the money that would have been spent for her burial clothes.


Creek

The story, which is short enough to be read in about 20 minutes, takes place in an unnamed rural village with no named characters except the Yoons. Everything is kept as simple as can be with a minimum of flourishes - the boy and the girl, the creek, the shower, fields, mountain, and other things in nature, and finally the boy’s parents. Yet they all come together in such an ensemble to create an unforgettable, beautiful story that stays with you for a long time. The reason it is so moving is in part because it deals with the most primeval things in life in their simple, unadulterated forms, such as the young age of the main characters, things in nature yet untouched by industrial development, and the old fashioned way of life where people care about their communities and neighbors.
Boy and Girl in a Shelter Also, more importantly, it brings back similar long cherished memories in people’s hearts, the precious personal experience at an early age that is forever etched in their souls. And then there is the ironic and tragic workings of fate, where the unexpected downpour of a shower that brings the two children together with such a decisive force is also what brings about the sad conclusion. It is what set the course of the events, and it is also a metaphor for the boy’s and girl’s first taste of love which came and went just like a sudden downpour.

Being on the textbook, the story is practically known by everyone in Korea. It has also been adapted into a film, multiple dramas, and even a song by the rock band Boohwal. It is one of the most loved and cherished stories in Korea.

Boy and Girl on a Field

For myself personally, it is one of the two most unforgettable love stories I’ve ever known, the other one being James Galsworthy’s The Apple Tree. The Apple Tree is also a poignant story like The Shower, and might have had an even greater impact on me because I read it before The Shower at a more impressionable age, even though it was only an adapted cartoon version that came as an addendum to a schoolboy magazine (I thank the magazine publishers who had the good sense to dig up and adapt such a beautiful story for us even though it was a half century old novel published in a faraway country in a different language). In a broad sense, these two great works are telling us essentially the same story, the forever retold tale of love and death that we all experience, of how everyone is on a quest to discover the ultimate other one, to find the meaning in existence, before death eventually catches up with them.

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