2017 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior second place tie

It is human nature to fear the unknown, and even the most powerful can be controlled by this fear. In “The Tiger and the Persimmon” as retold by Heinz Insu Fenkl, a tiger loses his opportunity for a tasty meal because of his baseless fear of a dried persimmon. The story itself is a humorous one: when the tiger arrives near a house with a baby accompanied by his mother, he hears the mother admonish the baby that if he won’t stop crying, a tiger will devour him. When the baby does not cease to cry, she bribes the baby with a dried persimmon, and the baby stops crying. The tiger immediately believes the persimmon to be a monster scarier than itself and runs away to the mountains in fear. Much to the relief of the listeners of the story, the baby and his mother are saved by the tiger’s ridiculous fear, but the folktale is more than a story of good’s triumph over evil. Instead, “The Tiger and the Persimmon” serves to satirize the common fear of the unknown and demonstrates the extent of the control that this fear can have.

The “Tiger and the Persimmon” conveys the message that fear and anxiety over the unknown is foolish. The tiger’s aspiration to consume “the baby was still crying without the slightest sign of fear” disappeared after the child’s oblivious and naive actions that saved him. When the child stops crying after the mention of a persimmon, after continuing to cry at the mention of the tiger, the tiger thought, “‘I’m done for if the Persimmon sees me,’ and in a single leap, he leaves the village and runs away back up into the mountain”. Despite the tiger’s prowess and power, he is terrified of the persimmon and escapes to the mountains. The listeners of this folktale may ridicule the tiger for his silly fear, and in turn, see the ridiculousness of their own baseless fears of the unknown.

“The Tiger and the Persimmon” is also a story of hope, as it demonstrates that even the most powerful of enemies, represented in this story as the tiger, can be controlled by the fear of the unknown. For Korea, a country constantly under the pressures of neighboring kingdoms, the story can be a lesson in having courage and a lesson in using this common fear of the unknown to one’s advantage. During the Japanese invasion of Korea in the 16th century, Korea’s military was outnumbered by the Japanese. Admiral Yi Sun-Sin made women dress in military uniform and dance saying “ganggangsullae” loudly at Mount Okmae. This intimidated the Japanese, resulting in their retreat. The tiger from “The Tiger and the Persimmon” represents the Japanese who were intimidated by the volume of the ganggangsullae, and similarly to the tiger, their fear of the unknown caused their retreat.

The folktale of “The Tiger and the Persimmon” is a humorous one in which the tiger’s baseless fear of a persimmon saves a baby and his mother from being eaten. The story is important because it teaches the importance of courage, even in the face of the unknown, and also demonstrates the commonality of this fear, even in the strongest of opponents.