When one thinks of college life or teenage years, immediately works like High School Musical and Mean Girls come to mind. While growing up, I watched movies that gave me false hopes of how “happening” college life can be.
In these fictional works, there was a deliberate exclusion of monotony and people who represented it. Some characters like Troy Bolton then, became glorified figures while others like Carter could only become a good friend.
I did not find anything different in Kdramas as well. How could I? When it comes to portraying student life, most of the works take a cue from western culture. After all, we all find our influences in that part of the world. But exceptions are always there.
Recently, I got my hands on a manwha that helped me gain perspective on my college life. By the way, I graduated in the year 2016 but every once in a while, my mind goes back to the safe haven where I spent three years of my academic life.
Cheese in the Trap
Last month, I started reading “Cheese in the Trap”. It’s a manhwa by a South Korean writer who tries to bring forth issues faced by a college student. The plot revolves around a girl named Hong Seol whose only aim is to get enough grades, to secure her scholarship. I will share the detailed review for the series in my next piece but today, I would like to talk a bit about the female protagonist.
Hong Seol is a regular girl who is trying to make something of herself while dealing with her problems as a student and as a woman. The creator of manhwa introduces her as girl with timid personality and magnanimous perseverance. One of the attempts of the creator then seems to break the hierarchy of stock character types and bring the least cared for at the center stage. This served as one of the major reasons for my admiration for the comic series. Below are top three reasons why I find Hong Seol fascinating:
She is ambitious and absolutely unapologetic about it
As mentioned earlier, Seol’s aim in the manhwa is to secure a scholarship to complete her education. She is a geek who spent most of her time in books to achieve her aim. The only reason why she volunteers for extracurricular activities is that they serve as means to her end. In one of the chapters, she confesses that she likes to be acknowledged for her hard work as that’s the only trait she possesses. When Beak In Ho makes fun of her for studying in the metro, she explains to him that his mockery will not help her get a job but her attention towards her studies will.
During my college time, I used to reflect a lot on my unwillingness to participate in extracurricular activities. I used to compare myself to other students and subconsciously, I deemed myself “uncool”. But after coming across Seol, I realized that no one defined who I turned out to be in college. It was only ‘my’ preference to focus on things I like over things that I found necessary to gain attention. Surprisingly, Seol made me accept who I am no matter what others think how I am and how I should be.
She is flawed which makes her relatable
In one of the chapters, she is made to work in a group for a project and all the people in the group turn out to be freeloaders. At first, she attempts to work patiently with her group members but when the attempt to collaborate fails, she sets to work on the complete project herself. This particular episode made me cry the most. The situation and Seol’s actions were so relatable that it hurt.
At my workplace, I always end up doing most of the work in group projects. The reason is simple- it’s easier to do things than to get them done. One would do things themselves than wait for the mishap. While I do agree that group projects are meant to share responsibilities and learn the significance of teamwork but in reality, it’s not that easy. Freeloaders always find a way to get away and it is only the characters like Seol who ends up in the problem.
Seol is flawed. In the next group project, she excludes the freeloader but she does it out of self-interest. She is judgmental and she knows it. But then, the question is what makes her the protagonist?
In manhwa, we see her reflecting on her actions and that’s what makes her the lead. Even when she misjudges Yoo Jung, she makes a point to analyze her judgment. Even in real life, if we don’t introspect, we will never know if we are right in our actions or not. Hong Seol is an example for us.
She knows when to speak up
When Son Min-soo tries to take up Seol’s identity, Seol makes a point to speak up. Even though her classmates call her “overdramatic”, only she knows the effect Min-soo’s actions are having on her mentally. She did not regret beating Min-soo up when she tries to involve Seol’s brother in her plot.
Hong Seol likes to mind her business like we all do. In an already messed up life, the last thing she can ask for is a stalker and an impostor. She tries to ignore them as and when she can but when things begin to get out of hands; she makes sure to speak up.
In one of my pieces, I discussed how being a nerd is actually a curse for people as it does not take a minute for the masses to stereotype and misjudge them. The creator of “Cheese in the Trap” tries to showcase the life of a nerd whose ultimate aim to make a living for herself “irrespective” of what others think about her. The comic is really a “slice of real life”. Yoo Jung’s narrative does mixes fiction with realism but the beauty of this work lies in reader’s ability to isolate each character and view them as standalone, sub-narratives.
Note: I ended up sharing images from the drama rather than the manhwa but they would suffice the context I am trying to present in my piece.
Have you read the manhwa or watched the drama? What’s your take on Hong Seol? Share your thoughts in the comment section. If you want to join me on Twitter, you can use the handle @ayushidelhi1996 🙂