After rocking the globe with its impeccable storytelling and execution, Squid Game is preparing for a sequel to be released somewhere between 2023 and 2024. But before the world moves on to the second season of this chart-breaking show, a few representations in season 1 need to be discussed again that the audience might have missed out on.
Here are the five in-depth symbolisms in Squid Game that might give you a new perspective on the show:
1. “Brother’s Home” Camps:
The entire premise of Squid Game is built upon the sociopolitical history of South Korea, with different characters and plot points pointing at different dark corners of its society. The first symbolism in the show is the very camp where all the players are housed, and the games take place. From the uniform to the bloody violence inside those walls, all resemble the concentration camps of president Chun Doo Hwan. Under the garb of his “Social Purification” campaign, the government would send homeless, orphaned, and disabled people to “re-education camps” where they were subjected to inhumane labor and abuse. Around 100,000 people were reportedly sent to these camps, where they would be given a blue training suit and rubber shoes. Divided into groups, the captured people often suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of each other, as well as by the supervisors.
2. Union Struggle
The character of Gi Hoon is representative of working-class struggles in South Korea. His flashbacks in episode 5 allude to a real workers’ struggle in 2009, The Ssangyong Motor Strike, where 900 workers barricaded their factory for 77 days. They protested job cuts, and the strike ended in violent police raids. The aftermath of the strike claimed many workers’ lives. Just as shown in the series where Gi Hoon survives by doing odd jobs, the workers of South Korea also make do through uncertain employment modes. According to the data by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, over 40% of workers in South Korea are classified as “irregular workers,” who make up half of “regular” full-time employees and get no benefits or labor protection.
3. Debt Crisis
Sang Woo’s character in Squid Game alludes to the severe debt crisis in South Korea. He joins the Squid Game while drowning in a ₩6.00 billion KRW (about $4.62 million USD) debt, trying to prevent his mother from destitution because of his own mistakes. His desperation to get rid of his financial liabilities reflects the struggle of several households in the country who battle with debt in their day-to-day lives. The country heavily relies on credit for regular purchases, and as a result, household debt has risen to 105% of its GDP, the highest in all countries of Asia. It is also the leading cause of suicide in the country.
The show implicitly hints at the possibility that the pink-suited guards of the Squid Game are not very different from the game participants. But they end up safeguarding the interest of the “VIPs,” perhaps bound by the obligation of professional duty. The hint that these guards are not necessarily the root of the evil, but just instruments of violence, leads to a very obvious allusion to the conscription policy of South Korea. All able-bodied citizens who are assigned male at birth must enlist in the country’s military and serve a mandatory period.
The VIPs of the Squid Game, who sit behind a mask and enjoy the violence that the players are forced to unleash upon each other, are shown to be primarily white in the series. This is a possible commentary on the Western imperialism forced on South Korea, especially after the IMF crisis. The 1997 financial crisis period impelled the country to open its domestic markets and public assets to foreign investment. By 2004, 44% of all Korean stock market capital was owned by foreigners, most of which were US, EU, and Japanese investors. These large-scale investments also have an overreaching influence on the socio-political spheres of the country. One glaring example of that would be the US-Korea free trade agreement, which allowed US corporations to contest South Korean laws that do not profit them.
There are more symbolic characters in the show whose representations are a bit more obvious. Sae Byeok represents the plight of DRPK defectors in South Korea who are forced to live in poverty and abuse. The character of Ali Abdul highlights the struggles of migrant workers and the power imbalance between them and South Korean citizens. Deok Su is an unmistakable representation of organized crime in the country that often stands for the muscle power of corporations and even the government.