It can be seen that the most challenging ideas in a text are found in the detail in Barbara Demick’s non-fiction text, “Nothing to Envy.” This text is set in the 1990s in the Northern City of Chongjin in North Korea. The text presents what life is like for six North Koreans who ultimately defect from the country through China. The most challenging details of this text are those about North Korea’s use of propaganda, the indoctrination of youth in their education and the total control that Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il have over the citizens. Through these details, the reader learns the true nature of dictatorship.

Propaganda can be defined as information of a biased or misleading nature, In North Korea, propaganda is used to promote the Kim dictators. The details about propaganda begin early on in the text when the author describes the North Korean landscape. It is described as grey and dull and the only colour really found on the streets of North Korea is, in fact, the Kim Il-Sung posters and billboards. The posters are brightly coloured images of Kim il-Sung sitting on a bench smiling with children surrounding him. Yellow and Orange colours are used to illuminate him and portray him as the sun. The writing is all in red, so it stands out on the grey landscape. Posters, however, are just the most standard form of propaganda in North Korea, it is depicted everywhere and in every way possible. For example films, radio, portraits, newspapers, loudhailers, television, uniforms, fashion, and hair. The propaganda is used to manipulate and control the North Korean citizens, although it is merely stated in the text, it is shown in the smaller details. “In Mrs, Songs home, as in every other, a framed portrait of Kim il-Sung hung on an otherwise bare wall”. Inspections were regularly done to ensure that everyone had a portrait of the great leader, and we’re keeping it in immaculate condition. Mrs. Songs husband, chang bo, worked for the government reporting business stories. He didn’t  

The Education system is where the brainwashing of next generations begin, North Korean children spend an extensive amount of time learning the teachings of Kim Il Sung and from the young age of 5 are lead to believe that countries such as America and Japan are horrible threats. In order to be a successful dictator, Kim Il-sung needed North Korea to think that their country is great and that Americans for example are inferior. These ideas are portrayed in every way possible many schools have a dedicated room for worshiping Kim Il Sung. This room is often heated, and fitted with electricity unlike the classrooms in the rest of the school. This detail shows the dictatorship of Kim Il-sung as everything related to him is glorified to make him appear as a “god” or “father”. The children are manipulated by Kim Il-sung almost in every aspect of education, whether it be maths, art, music, or science they are taught to follow the great leader and hate the enemy. A first-grade math book contains questions such as “A girl is acting as a messenger to our patriotic troops during the war against Japanese occupation. She carries messages in a basket of apples but is stopped by a Japanese soldier at a checkpoint. He steals 2 of her apples. How many are left?”. This is just one example of Kim Il-sung using the education system to his own benefit, all the books children read and the songs they sing follow a similar context. Because of this, most North Koreans grow up not knowing any better, and never questioning Kim Il-sung making it easier for him to lead and dictate the country.

North Korea is undoubtedly one of the most controlled countries in the world today. The Kim dynasty are known worldwide alongside Adolf Hitler and Stalin for being the most barbaric dictators in history. Ever since Kim il Sung came into power the line of dictators have used total control over the citizens of North Korea to maintain their dictatorship role and ensure they remain in power. Things controlled are marriage, food distribution, businesses and even the sewage. The problem with North Korea is everyone grows up with this misconception of their government which immediately allows the government to control their lives. Every single little thing in the lives of you average North Korean is controlled and watched over. The characters lives in the novel give us an insight on what it is like to live under this control especially Mrs. Song. All of her life she has been a true patriot and never once did wrong by her government, as we follow along the novel we learn the reasons why Mrs. Song was an ideal North Korean citizen and how Kim il-sung used total control and power to control these people. Most of the people in North Korea live in fear, therefore do as they are told. A minor offence can hold some serious consequences, which usually means it is unlikely anyone will break the law as the risk of getting caught is simply not worth it. For example in the 90’s famine a guy was caught stealing copper wire from a broken power pole and was sentenced to death. The nature of dictatorship is revealed through the total control of the country because we learn every little thing the Kim dictators did to keep North Koreans citizens in line and not question the fact they’re dictators.


The idea that the nature of dictatorship is shown through the details in the novel “Nothing to Envy” by Barbara Demick, comes to light when we learn about the lives of six North Korean defectors. Throughout the novel we notice how the line of Kim Dictators all used similar tactics, such as the use of propaganda, the indoctrination of their youth, the education system, and the overall the total control of the North Korean citizens. In these details and learning the atrocity of what goes in the North Korea, the reader is able to understand the true nature of dictatorship.

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  1. Olivia, you will need to complete this essay for your 3.4 Portfolio. The points that you have outlined in your introduction are good, however all three points need to be completed. Also at the end of each point, you need to explain what these “challenging ideas” teach the reader about their own lives. You could use your handout on “Aspects of dictatorship” and “breaking free” to help formulate these final judgements. Please see me about how you would like to use your lesson time this week.


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