25th October 2017

Nothing to Envy essay

The characters we respond to the most sympathetically are those who experience both suffering and triumph.

Introduction (Must include: text title, author, words from the question, the points you will discuss and a general summary of what we learn from the details)

A short paragraph outlining what the text is about (3-4 lines): “Nothing to Envy” is set in North Korea in the 1990s……

Point formula:

State the point (person you are talking about) using the words from the question

Expand with background details from the text

Examples (two quotations) to support your ideas

Response: This show…


  • Cross reference to another person, place, event….(but relate back to your text)


Mi-ran (suffering: songbun is really low; she is considered “tainted blood” and she  and her siblings will never have the opportunities that others have: marriage, education, travel, privileges like television, nice clothes)

(suffering: never able to openly date Jun-sang; spends 8 years secretly meeting; leaves the text slightly unfulfilled)

(triumph: works really hard despite obstacles and manages to become a teacher of a kindergarten; suffering” students die)

(triumph: defects before any other character in the text; even before Jun-sang)


In the creative non-fiction “Nothing to Envy” by Barbara Demick the characters we respond to the most sympathetically are those who experience both suffering and triumph. This is true for Mi-ran, Mrs Song and Dr Kim.  From these characters we learn how hard it must’ve been to live in the “world” of North Korea, and see both their triumphs and sufferings.

Mi-ran is a 12 year old girl who lives in Chongjin. Mi-ran first experiences suffering when she finds out that her “songbun” or status is low because of the “tainted blood” within her family. This is shown in the lines “the sins of their father were the sins of their children and grandchildren” meaning, that becuase Mi-ran’s father was a South Korean prisoner of war, her entire family were treated as lower class and were not given the same privileges as those citizens who had North Korean blood for generations. Mi-Ran and her siblings had difficulty when they wanted to go to the best schools as their songbun put them in the lower class.  The teacher explained “only students with better songbun could secure a placement in performing arts schools” and also Mi-ran’s brother answered every question perfectly and still failed. “He confronted the judges angrily and demanded an explanation”. This shows the suffering that Mi-Ran’s family had to face because of their fathers background. This can also be seen in history in Nazi Germany when anyone with Jewish bloodline would be discriminated against during the Holocaust, Mi ran is discriminated against as she has South Korean bloodlines as her father was South Korean.  In both one race was discriminated against and from this great suffering was felt.

Mi-ran also experiences suffering when she is in ways forced to witness the death of children due to starvation. Mi-ran becomes a teacher of kindergarten aged children and greets the children to class every day at 8 am.  The children always turn up in rugged clothes and look tired and hungry.  Mi Ran wonders “if the Children only come to school for the free lunch at the cafeteria”. With time, she is walking down the street one day and noticed all the children out of the street starving and dying.  This is shown when the text says “their baby fingers would squeeze into tiny fist no bigger than walnuts” and “their delicate rib cages protruded over waist so small that she could encircle them with her hands”.  Mi Ran was horrified by these sights.  This shows other aspects of North Korea that are trying to be hidden away so that the supreme leader will have his way and make the people of North Korea believe they are in a safe and healthy country.   The experiences Mi Ran went through when she was walking through the streets and seeing the dying children must have been horrific.  Seeing the dying children and knowing there is nothing you can do about it would have brought so much guilt on her which i would imagine would’ve messed with her head a lot.


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