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Yeong-Hye starts out as a totally unremarkable young woman, described by her husband in such as way that we know she is unmemorable in personality and appearance. He likes it that way. He doesn't have to bother with considering her; he just knows that she will keep quiet, do as she's told, and keep his life orderly and predictable.

Then she has a disturbing dream and decides to become vegetarian. This alarms her husband and extended family. They believe her being vegetarian will damage her and them, and their place in society.

I do not see The Vegetarian as a comment on mental illness, at least not Yeong-Hye's. I see it as allegorical. Her dream opens her eyes to the cruelty and repression one group visits upon another to satisfy their own desires and expectations. She counteracts what she sees as cruelty with her own behavior, i.e. becoming vegetarian. To her husband and family, this is unacceptable. They refuse to allow her this freedom to make her own decision and govern her own behavior, even going so far as to force meat into her mouth. Instead of acquiescing, she takes it a step further and begins refusing to eat, and the hospital feeds her intravenously. She begins feeling herself more attuned to plants than to humans, and in fact begins "becoming" a tree, standing on her hands in the hospital in imitation of the way she believes trees stand -- with their arms in the ground.

Han's writing is spare and serene, qualities which add to the mystical feeling of this book. This conceit -- of woman as a plant, alive but not sentient -- is a new one for me, and very interesting. It brings to mind Daphne who begs to be turned into a tree to escape the unwanted advances of Apollo who is chasing her. I am now interested in reading Han's "The Fruit of My Woman," about a woman who lives as a potted plant, with her husband tending her.

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