Sample Argumentative Essay: Squid Game as an Allegory for Socioeconomic Inequality

EssayArgumentative Essay

An argumentative essay is one of the most common types of essay assigned to students. Its main purpose is to advance an argument through facts, logic, and objective analysis. This sample essay presents the argument that the massively popular South Korean series Squid Game is an allegory of social inequality by exploring parallels between the show and real life.

Since its release on September 17, 2021, Netflix’s South Korean survival drama Squid Game has taken the world by storm. An unlikely hit due to having been repeatedly turned down by numerous production companies before getting picked up by Netflix, Squid Game  has officially become the streaming service’s biggest launch with over 111 million views in the past month alone (Keck). But its popularity is not just confirmed by the number of views but also by the deluge of memes generated by the public and the volume of attention given by the media. Despite its popularity, Squid Game has not escaped criticism. The graphic violence of the show, in particular, has been decried by viewers and critics alike. The New York Times, for instance, described the violence as “more than mildly sickening in its scale” and dismissed the show as just “just empty, bloody calories” (Hale). While it is true that the series features violence that could make even the most avid fan of the slasher genre squirm, branding it as outright empty is a gross oversimplification. Any critique or interpretation should keep in mind that the content of the series cannot be divorced from the context in which it was created. Indeed, it is the very context that serves as a key to understanding the message. When situated within the context of South Korea’s personal debt crisis, Squid Game becomes an allegory of extreme socioeconomic inequality in the developed world.

In order to understand how Squid Game is an allegory of socioeconomic inequality, it is important to first understand the context in which it is situated. Squid Game is first and foremost a reflection of the South Korean debt crisis. The series tells the story of 456 individuals who join a series of six children’s games with deadly consequences. The backstory of these characters tends to be the same: debt-ridden, chased by sadistic creditors, and at the end of their line, the players agree to risk their lives playing brutal games for a chance to win ₩45 billion ($38 million). While some of the players’ debts are of their making, such as the case of a gangster who amassed debt from gambling, most are in debt due to circumstances beyond their control: main character Gi-hun was laid off from a factory and has since struggled; Sae-byeok is a North Korean defector tricked by a broker, and Ali is a migrant worker denied pay by his employer. These characters and their desperations are a reflection of real-life socioeconomic issues in Korea, most notably the problem with personal debt.

Despite being a developed economy with one of the largest economies in the world, millions in South Korea are in debt. Rising costs of living, growing inequality, and economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have driven people into taking out ruinous loans, which can have interest rates as high as over 200%. According to current data, the debt-ridden population mostly comprises citizens in their 30s, who on average have borrowed 260% of their income (Kim). But personal debt is not just an individual problem. Data shows that the total household debt in South Korea has now exceeded the country’s GDP by 5%. And the amount keeps growing today and economists worry about its effects on the indebted, let alone its long-term effects on the economy. As noted by Kim and McCurry, “Indebtedness has gone hand in hand with a dramatically widening income gap, exacerbated by rising youth unemployment and property prices in big cities beyond the means of most ordinary workers.” It is no wonder, therefore, that the series struck a nerve: “The 456 contestants speak directly to many of the country’s anxieties…The characters have resonated with South Korean youth who don’t see a chance to advance in society” (Young). As fictional as the show may be, the premise that drives the plot is just as bleak as reality, thus transforming Squid Game from a run-of-the-mill thriller to a commentary on inequality in modern South Korea.

While the show speaks directly of the South Korean personal debt crisis, it is important to note that it is also a reflection of inequality in the developed world, and it does this by revealing the power imbalance between the rich and the poor. Squid Game is set in South Korea, a developed country known for its advanced economy. But underneath this veneer of progress is the ubiquity of suffering among the marginalized. Indeed, the suffering is bad enough that it compels the characters to put their lives in the hands of a few. In the series, the rich and powerful organization behind the games is effectively in control of the players’ lives such as getting to decide how much pain they should endure, how many of them die, and how their lives end. In the end, it is revealed that all 455 players must die, leaving a single winner. As D’Addario states, “Those who play the Squid Game are subject to the most banal and juvenile philosophizing of those who, because of lucky breaks in life, get to determine everyone else’s reality.” The level of influence the organization in the series wields is not much different from the power imbalance between the rich and the poor in the real world.

In the developed world, the working class’s existence is shaped by those at the very top. Although the developed world is known for its high standard of living, it is also marred by rising rates of poverty and a growing wage gap , both of which are the main contributors to inequality resulting from the decisions of the elite. Consider, for instance, how Oxfam has calculated that the richest 1% have more wealth than the 99% of the global population combined. In fact, the 62 richest people in the world alone have a collective wealth that exceeds that of the poorest 50% (British Broadcasting Corporation). But such power is not merely expressed in numbers but also manifested in the lives of everyday people. When multinationals make decisions, it affects the lives of millions. Such companies are owned by the richest people in the world, which is a glaring contrast to the poverty endured by many of their workers. And despite the fact that such companies are known for their history of unfair practices, they are still magnets for countless workers.

Many people put up with exploitation because they have no other choice. Such companies know they do not have to change a lot in what they do because they also know that people will settle for something rather than nothing. The destitute are precisely the kind of employees such companies prey on. It is not free will that enables abuse, therefore, but desperation engendered by the excesses of the wealthiest. This power imbalance between corporations and workers adds another layer of similarity between real life and Squid Game . Just as how the organizers of the game insist that the players are not coerced into joining and that they choose to join according to their free will, exploitative corporations insist they do not force employees while ignoring the power dynamics that perpetuate the cycle of exploitation. As Cho notes in her review of the show on The Harvard Crimson, “ Squid Game is a jarring indictment of capitalism and mercantilism, of the dual politics of despair and power. It warns of the moral, psychological, and social unraveling that commences the moment we decide to stop seeing fellow people as human beings.” True to the status of players in the series as mere pawns, workers are considered by many companies as replaceable and hence expendable cogs of a profitable machine.

It is also perhaps worth noting that Squid Game follows the literary and cinematic tradition of portraying violence to advance a point about inequality. The South Korea series is by no means the first to do this. Neither is the most graphic. Two important works the show borrows from or at the very least echoes are Koushun Takami’s novel Battle Royale and Suzanne Collins’ young adult novel series The Hunger Games. Like Squid Game , these works feature deadly competitions devised by the rich and played by the poor. These two works have had their own share of criticism for their violence as well as acclaim for their poignant illustration of socioeconomic inequality. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.

In the end, it can perhaps be reasonably argued that Squid Game is heavy-handed in its depiction of violence. But what cannot be thrown against this series is the claim that its violence is empty and meaningless. Quite the contrary, Squid Game’s violence is an allegorical representation of social inequality in the developed world. When situated within the context of South Korea’s personal debt crisis, the series takes on the role of a mirror to an advanced economy that has neglected those on the very bottom. But more than this, the series is a commentary on inequality in the broader developed world. Just as the rich organizers of the game get to decide who lives and dies in the series, the rich corporations in the real world have the power to make decisions that decide the fate of the poor. As Cho succinctly posits, “For many shows, violence is a gimmick. In “Squid Game,” violence is the point.”

While an argumentative essay is a common assignment, students can expect to write many other papers such as compare and contrast, cause and effect, and persuasive essays. Make sure you meet all these requirements by letting professionals at CustomEssayMeister take over.

Works Cited

British Broadcasting Corporation. “Oxfam says wealth of richest 1% equal to other 99%.” BBC, 18 January 2016, Accessed 24 October 2021.

Cho, Isabella D. “In ‘Squid Game,’ Violence Is the Point.” The Harvard Crimson , 19 October 2021, Accessed 24 October 2021.

D’Addario, Daniel. “‘Squid Game’ Review: Netflix’s Global Hit Wants to Condemn Violence While Reveling in It.” Variety , 8 Oct. 2021, Accessed 24 October 2021.

Hale, Mike. “Haven’t Watched ‘Squid Game’? Here’s What You’re Not Missing.” The New York Times, 11 October 2021, Accessed 24 October 2021.

Keck, Catie. “Netflix calls Squid Game its ‘biggest ever series at launch’.” The Verge , 12 October 2021, Accessed 24 October 2021.

Kim, Nemo and Justin McCurry. “Squid Game lays bare South Korea’s real-life personal debt crisis.” The Guardian , 8 Oct. 2021, Accessed 24 October 2021.

Kim, Victoria. “The seedy world of private lending in ‘Squid Game’ is real temptation in South Korea.” Los Angeles Times , 16 Oct. 2021, Accessed 24 October 2021.

Young, Jin Yu. “Behind the Global Appeal of ‘Squid Game,’ a Country’s Economic Unease.” The New York Times , 18 October 2021, Accessed 24 October 2021.

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