2010 Sejong Writing Competition
Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior first place
The Snake and the Boar is clearly a folktale, but its “lesson” is less transparent and leaves the reader puzzling over it. In the end one realizes it is a story of heroes, villains, kindness, and rewards for the generous. What first appears to be a simple child’s story has layers, each one peeling away to reveal something new- something more pure, something more beautiful, like the clean rain washing the world.
The ending made it seem that the boar is the villain and the dragon is the hero, but how true is this assumption? The boar appears to be greedy, by tricking the scholar, though it is less a lie than a semi-truth in his attempt to ascend to heaven. The only way for the dragon to enter heaven and the scholar to survive was if he was willing to give up his life. The story clearly states that if the man had not been so kind she would have eaten his family out of anger. Regardless of this, the dragon is not completely pure in her motives. What makes the dragon seem better is the scholar’s appreciation of her supposed kindness and holiness. He says, “It is only right for us to give up our lives for your sake,” after describing the worthlessness of mortal life, when it could be sacrificed so she could ascend to heaven. The scholar trusted the woman on the basis of her kindness to his family, despite the fact that she never trusted him enough to tell him she was trying to become a dragon in order to ascend to heaven and she said that if he had not done what she wanted, she would have eaten him and his family.
However, if the reader continues to contemplate the story, he or she may realize the woman does deserve the title of “hero”. Heroes are stereotypically brave and physically strong, but that is not the true definition of a hero. All heroes have good moral character and do his or her best to complete the mission they have been assigned. The dragon states: “Heaven had given her the task of earning the trust of an honorable human and compelling him to sacrifice himself to her”. The next line is more revealing, “That is why she had done everything for him”. Some may feel this is solid proof the dragon is not a hero, since it seems she is only kind for her own advantage and ambition. Yet she was kind and eventually comes to care for the man and his family. She gives the man a place to stay when he has no place to rest while traveling to Seoul. She makes sure his family is well cared for in his absence. She improves their lives so much that the scholar is willing to sacrifice his life and the lives of his family members for her so she can ascend into heaven. This strong affection must have been reciprocated by the dragon. The dragon would not have been a hero without accomplishing the task sent to her by Heaven. She completes her task with kindness and compassion, unlike the boar who resorts to trickery. He is impatient and hopes to earn his ascension by destroying the dragon’s prospects. She is patient and honorable, not interfering with the task the boar is probably given. The dragon is indeed a hero.
These two conflicting interpretations are extremely significant when one considers the reason this folktale was written. As with all folktales, the purpose of this story is to impart values or morals to the listener or reader. The morals of this story are not as obvious as those in “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, they are more hidden and shrouded in actions instead of words. The woman, the scholar, and the scholar’s wife all display good values. The woman is kind to the scholar, generous in her gifts to his family, and honorable in not hurting the boar’s attempts at heaven. The scholar is studious and works hard to provide for his family. He is truthful when his tells his wife he has been living with the woman and honorable when he offers his life to the woman. The scholar’s wife is kind; she is grateful to the dragon instead of jealous. She listens to what her husband has to say before judging, and when she judges she respects his decision. She lets him leave, though she must miss him, so he can continue to provide for her, her son, and her mother-in-law. The boar in the story also serves a purpose. He is a foil- a character who brings out the best and worst in another character. He shows how honorable the woman is compared to him and brings out her vengeful anger. This rage is understood because the man she puts her trust in would have betrayed her before she ate his family. The purpose of this tale is both to entertain and to teach about honor and generosity.
My personal interpretation is not much different from the analysis above, though I favor the dragon being a hero, because I try to think the best in people. I have no memory or experience to compare this with, and I have never been cared for or housed by a kind stranger, who supplied my family with everything they needed and more. I have never offered my life for a holy creature or any person. Still, this is a story with which all people feel connected and familiar, like a forgotten tale from childhood. Here we are all similar- stories and oral histories passed down through all generations, stories of heroes, villains, kindness and love.