Simon C. Estok
Many environmental ills derive from humanity’s unsustainable fondness for meat, a fondness that often pushes (and sometimes breaks) environmental limits and reveals unsustainable patriarchal ideologies. Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and Ang Li’s The Butcher’s Wife each, in very different ways, expose the strands of “meat and gender” enmeshments in Korea and Taiwan respectively, showing the mutual interdependence of carnivorism and patriarchal power. So deeply rooted are the entangled strands of carnivorism and sexism that contesting them (either together or apart) means dismantling the very definition of human corporeality: in The Vegetarian, this means that a woman becomes a plant; in The Butcher’s Wife, it means that a man becomes the very cattle he has spent his life slaughtering; in both, questioning meat is a very dangerous challenge that comes from a woman through a narrative perspective that is clearly feminist. Both novels plainly show deep analogies and correspondences between domestic violence and violence against animals, and yet, in both, there is a taut relationship between vegetable-based histories and a more meat-based modernity. This article argues firstly that the violence of meat-eating in The Vegetarian and The Butcher’s Wife is both physical and psychological. Dreams and madness are involved. Normalcy is male, deviance female. Order is meat, chaos vegetal. And the threat of death will either be fully realized or will hang menacingly in the air. Secondly, this article argues that the novels importantly show that breaking points (psychological and environmental) are often utterly unpredictable and that once breached, the results can also be devastatingly unpredictable.