The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Only two characters in The Innocent demand any consideration: the narrator, Major Lee, and Colonel Min. Lee is by temperament and training more of an academic than a military officer, but love of his country impels him to take up a military career after the Korean War ends. Lee met Colonel Min during their teaching days together at a university in Seoul. After the war, a year before the coup, both Lee and Min were in Paris, where Min conceived of the plans for the coup in a sidewalk café. Their relationship thus has a long history.

The idealist Lee is haunted by a story about Min that he is told by a young officer from Min’s village. Min is rumored to have shot and killed a North Korean officer in cold blood in the time immediately following World War II. The true story turns out to have been that Min had been in Manchuria with Korean units fighting with Communist Chinese forces, and that these Korean forces had become the vital cadre of the new North Korean army. Min, however, simply left his unit and went home, only to have a North Korean major come and take him under arrest to a nearby Russian garrison. The North Korean major was an intensely patriotic Communist who wanted Min to come back and work with the Korean Communists.

What happened at the Russian garrison became the basis for the rumor of Min’s brutality. In the presence of the Russian commander, a major, and a Russian lieutenant, the North Korean major had given Min a...

(The entire section is 424 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Major Lee

Major Lee, the narrator, one of a group of Korean army officers involved in a coup d’état. Lee struggles with a moral dilemma: In their effort to rescue the country from a corrupt regime and replace it with moral leaders, the coup members risk becoming as evil as those they seek to overthrow. Lee opposes any plan to shed blood, but other members, especially Colonel Min, see bloodshed as necessary—and therefore justifiable—if their coup is to succeed. When General Ham is killed by the conspirators, Lee realizes that his ideal of an honorable coup is doomed. Finally, he acknowledges the need for people like Min, having learned that tragedy and absurdity result from the collision of good and evil. He embarks for America, saddened by the turmoil his country is suffering and nostalgic for his lost innocence.

Colonel Min

Colonel Min, the leader of the conspirators and friend of Lee. Although he respects Lee’s intelligence and idealism, Min regards Lee as a sentimental intellectual out of touch with the real world and ineffectual against evil men. Lee’s idealism helps Min maintain a clear view of goodness and justice, ideals for which the conspirators are fighting, and to save himself from falling victim to the illusion of omnipotence, as have the evil generals and politicians. Once the coup has succeeded, however, Min no longer needs Lee as moral ballast, and in the very act of sending his idealistic friend off to America, Min is killed by opposition soldiers. The man who sought to achieve a peaceful end by violent means himself falls victim to violence, though he has sacrificed his life for a just cause.

General Ham

General Ham, the chief opponent of the coup. He attempts to save himself and his fortunes by negotiating with Min. Wily, self-serving, cruel, and unscrupulous, he epitomizes the corruption among the country’s leaders. Ham’s pride makes him...

(The entire section is 802 words.)