2009 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior third place

The Sun and the Moon vs Little Red Cap
Sharon Bae

When we compare a light bulb and a candle, we can see the differences between those by observing how each gives off a different type of light. However, their purposes resemble each other: they help us see clearly. They appear to be different on the surface, but their purposes are alike. The same applies to folktales. There are similar “tale types” that appear among different cultures. For example, both the European story The Little Red Cap and the Korean version The Sun and The Moon resemble one another with respect to plot and moral. However, the cultural diversities imbue distinct differences between the stories such as the symbolic values of animal characters, the main qualities the characters represent, and the function of the characters in the tales. Therefore, by comparing Korean and European folk tales, we can investigate unique elements of these cultures.

Initially, many folktales relate wisdom drawn from animals in the world. Others relate fears and mischievousness symbolized by beasts. The symbolic use of animal characters in Korean and European folktales is divergent due to cultural differences. In The Sun and The Moon, the tiger plays the role of villain. In real life, the Korean people considered the tiger to be the representation of the protective mountain spirits as well as the menacing intruder who often brought fear and death to the people. However, in Little Red Cap, the wolf plays the role of villain. In European civilization, the wolf represents wickedness or malice. In several Korean and European folktales, animals play a prominent role in expressing the moral lessons of the stories. By examining the cultural differences between the two stories, we can appreciate the symbolic roles of animals and understand more about the various backgrounds and beliefs of the cultures in which they are feared and revered.

Furthermore, examining the essential qualities of the main character of each story suggests something about the culture from which she emerges. For example, in Little Red Cap, the main character does not obey her mother and strays from the right path when she encounters a wolf while going to visit her grandmother. The quality she represents is disobedience. By observing a European folktale, the readers can perceive that Europeans at the time of the story’s inception may have been very individualistic and more free to do as they pleased in both the realms of family and society. On the other hand, the protagonists, the brother and the sister, in The Sun and the Moon are more levelheaded and disciplined. For example, when the disingenuous tiger comes to their house, the brother and the sister quickly notice that it is not their mother and quietly escape the house. This may indicate a differing cultural emphasis in the time and place from which this story emerged. Koreans may have been much more punctilious, having to follow the lifestyle of Confucianism in which filial piety, brotherly love, and righteousness are considered very significant.

Finally, examining the function of the characters in the stories reveals additional cultural differences. More specifically, the Korean folktale shows the ideals of the characters whereas the European folktale highlights qualities that are to be avoided. Although many Korean folktales are quite whimsical, aspects of them are very real. Each tale reflects a picture of Korean country life that was probably close to that lived by many people. In The Sun and The Moon, the poor peasant woman is returning home from her work one day when she encounters a tiger demanding rice cakes. The woman exhibits the virtues of her physical bravery in facing the tiger and the power of motherly love. Such was the ideal of the stalwart and altruistic Korean peasant woman. However, many European folktales admonish the characters’ behaviors. For example, in Little Red Cap, it warns us about the qualities of the main character, who does not obey her mother and innocently falls into the trap of the wolf. From this admonishment, we can perceive that the purpose of the European folktale is to warn children about the dangers and the outcomes of not obeying their parents. 

There are stories that appear to be very different on the surface, but whose underlying messages are very similar. The overall moral message for both stories is that virtue shall be rewarded and evil shall be punished. By evaluating the influence of the different cultures in the two stories, we can learn to appreciate the diverse cultures from which the folktales emerge.