2009 Sejong Writing Competition
Winning Entries :: Essays :: Senior third place
Two Societies with the Same Expectations
Shimchong vs Beauty and the Beast
Despite the fact that Western and Asian cultures are considered to be unrelated and dissimilar, folk tales such as Beauty and the Beast and Shimchong: The Blind Man’s Daughter have analogous motifs that relay the same message across to the reader. Through the usage of the two heroines whom are portrayed as faultless and virtuous daughters, there is an underlying theme in both stories of society’s over-expectations from women, mainly the expectation that females should always be willing to sacrifice their own lives for other people, mainly for male figures. Even though the two stories originated from different parts of the world, they both suggest how women in society should act by displaying two daughters who are constantly filial and continually subservient. The two women who acquiesce to every request and commit rash, self-harming actions to serve the male are portrayed as immaculate beings who are later rewarded for their altruism.
Beauty and Shimchong are both kind-hearted girls who always put their families before themselves. They always make the best out every situation, never uttering a single complaint. Even though Beauty was forced to live with the Beast and Shimchong was sacrificed into the sea, they never show any sign of defiance or disobedience. Both daughters offer everything they can, never stopping to think about the consequences they will have to face for their hasty actions.
In Shimchong, Shimchong decides to go sacrifice herself immediately for her father because her mother appears in her dreams and tells her to go to the merchant to offer herself up. Without a doubt, Shimchong simply acquiesces and sells herself to the merchant for 300 sacks of rice so her father would be able to see. (It is also worth noting the Shimchong’s mother, another female character, was the one who told Shimchong to sacrifice herself for her father, which again emphasizes the expectation that women should always be willing to do selfless deeds for other people). The story suggests the importance of putting the male figure first by displaying Shimchong as a thoughtless girl whose only goal is to help her dad regain his vision; this is also supported by the fact that she is instantly willing to sacrifice herself instead of thinking about the consequences.
Similarly, in Beauty and the Beast, Beauty decides to go to Beast to save her father saying, “I will deliver myself up to all his fury, and I am very happy in thinking that my death will save my father's life, and be a proof of my tender love for him." Beauty’s decision was too rushed; she made up her mind right after her father told his children what had happened. She did not care that she was going to die; she only had one goal in mind: to help her dad. Although Beauty’s actions can also be interpreted as an act of love, her rash determination to save her father before even considering the consequences portrays her as a naïve girl who does not think nor do anything for herself. Her immediate response suggests to readers that women should instantly be willing to sacrifice everything instead of considering the impact on their own lives. Beauty’s actions imply that females should not live for themselves, but for somebody else.
However, not only do these stories merely show how women should behave, but they also associate the heroines’ filial actions with rewards and a fulfilling life. Since Shimchong and Beauty both tried to live out their lives as piously as possible and were immediately willing to sacrifice everything they had for their fathers, all of their problems were solved and they lived happily ever after. Shimchong was greatly rewarded by the Dragon King; he said, “I have seen that your filial piety and your selfless devotion are far greater than that of any other mortal I have known. It touches my heart to see your concern for your poor father, so as a reward for your devotion, I will send you back up into the world above.” Not only does she get sent back to Earth for her “selfless devotion,” but also, she becomes the queen by marrying the king. Furthermore, she is able to reunite with her father and help him regain his vision. In the end, everything works out and she becomes extremely happy.
Beauty also finds happiness because of her compliant actions; she marries a handsome prince, reunites with her father, and happily lives a satisfying life. The rewards that Beauty and Shimchong receive come as a result of the sacrifices they make in their lives, and it gives the impression that if all females live like these heroines, they too will be rewarded with extreme happiness and ultimately, the perfect life. In addition, not only does Beauty and the Beast show the positive aspect of being willing to sacrifice one’s life, but also, it warns that those who do not act like the perfect daughter will be punished. Beauty’s sisters never offered to help their father, and instead of instantly acquiescing to him, they chose to care more about themselves. Thus, they were punished and turned into stone statues. In both folk tales there is a clear association between selfless devotion as good and even mandatory; Beauty and the Beast even indicates that females that do not act like the filial heroine will end up being punished.
Through both tales, it is evident that both societies share the same expectations from women. Beauty and the Beast and Shimchong both emphasize the value of sacrifice, and elevate the two heroines who are willing to give up their entirety without giving it a second thought. The stories encourage females to be eager to give up their lives and imply that these actions will bring them elation and contentment. Instead of simply telling an amusing story, both subtly accentuate unrealistic expectations from women, and end up giving a biased image about how the ideal female should act.