The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Captain Lee is the author’s persona. Like Lee, Richard E. Kim, dislodged from academic life when the Communists entered Seoul, became an officer in the army of the Republic of Korea. Lee’s observations of war and civilian suffering reflect Kim’s personal experiences.

Lee is drawn in the text as one committed to truth but tolerant of religious beliefs that he cannot share. He is sustained in his conduct by his growing realization of a profound love that comprises friendship, devotion to homeland, a deep sense of duty, and compassion.

Mr. Shin is the novel’s focal character. He is a minister whose faith is not in the God of his preaching but in the faith itself of the people to whom he preaches. His faith in the reality and efficacy of faith, as opposed to faith in the reality and solicitude of God, has various parallels in modern literature: These include Søren Kierkegaard’s knight of infinite resignation; Albert Camus’s Tarrou in La Peste (1947) The Plague, 1948) Pär Lagerkvist’s Tobias in The Pilgrim, who, like Lagerkvist himself, is en troende utan tro (a person of faith without faith); and, especially, Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo’s Saint Manuel, a Christian priest who nurtures in his parishioners the faith that he does not himself have.

Colonel Chang, a fashioner of propaganda, wants the people to be strengthened in their faith, but only in the interest of political unity....

(The entire section is 455 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Captain Lee

Captain Lee, a history instructor at a Seoul university who joins the Korean army after the Communist invasion of Seoul. When United Nations forces conquer the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, Lee is sent there with Army Political Intelligence to discover what really happened to fourteen Christian ministers arrested by the Communist secret police. A detached, intellectual observer, he interviews Mr. Shin, one of the two surviving clergymen, to determine the truth. Lee, whose parents were Christian, is an atheist who believes only in truth. Unlike his commander, Colonel Chang, he resists shaping the truth to serve a purpose. Gradually, he becomes Mr. Shin’s ally and protector.

Mr. Shin

Mr. Shin, one of the fourteen Christian ministers imprisoned by the Communists a week before the Korean War began. Colonel Chang suspects Shin of betraying his fellow ministers in exchange for his life. Although Shin denies that he saw the twelve murdered ministers after their arrest, he was in fact present at their death. When the investigation uncovers conflicting evidence, Shin says that he is guarding truth that others may not want to hear. He lies about the details of the ministers’ deaths and the fact that some weakened under torture and betrayed the others because he believes that the persecuted Christians of Pyongyang need to believe in this martyrdom. Like Lee, Shin can no longer believe in God, but he loves his people. Although he is innocent, he identifies himself as a traitor and praises the martyrs’ courage. He bears his loss of faith silently. Shin sacrifices himself for those who need the hope he gives them. He ignores his own fragile health to help incoming refugees, refusing to flee the city when the United Nations troops withdraw. After he is presumed dead, strange stories are told of his appearance in many provinces of Korea.

Indoe Park...

(The entire section is 787 words.)