2015 Sejong Writing Competition
Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior first place tie
first place tie, junior essay division
Loss and Redemption
On the surface, Shimchong: the Blind Man's Daughter is a Korean folktale about a daughter's commitment to her family and the hardships she endures as a result of her filial devotion. However, the folktale, as retold by Heinz Insu Fenkl, conveys the importance of social class, family, and faith through the theme of loss and redemption. To understand the theme, one has to delve deeper into the story's underlying social and historical context.
Shimchong's father, Shim Hakkyu, is described as a poor, blind yangban. This is important because during the majority of the Hongpung era, yangban were wealthy civil servants or nobles, respected pillars of the community. They were allowed to have government positions and were praised and envied by all. But later, towards the end of the 17th century, the rapidly increasing amount of wealthy merchants pushed the yangban off of their pedestals and took their place in the social system. The theme of loss and redemption is conveyed through the many obstacles Shim Hakkyu encounters. He has lost his role in society, his sight, and his youth. In addition to these challenges, he and Kwakssi, his wife, are childless. Shim's redemption comes when he and his wife finally have a baby named Shimchong. However, loss follows when Kwakssi dies shortly after childbirth, leaving Shim to raise his daughter alone.
The theme of loss and redemption is further explored through Shimchong's relationship with her father. Multiple times, the story describes Shimchong as filial and pious, being a devoted daughter who "...accompanied her father as soon as she could walk and begged alms with him the moment she could speak." The ultimate example of Shimchong's filial piety is when she gives herself away to a merchant for 300 sacks of rice for her father to regain his sight. Little did Shim know that Shimchong was going to give herself away for his sake. He had lost his wife, and now he lost his only daughter for his own selfish reasons. Unfortunately, this sacrifice did not lead to Shim's immediate redemption.
Shimchong sacrifices herself for her father, and now for the merchant, for he wants to give Shimchong to the Dragon King, who has been wrathful and lashing out by sinking ships with his mighty storms. Even though Shimchong is about to lose her freedom, her redemption comes when she is able to see her mother again, for it is said that she, too, lived with the Dragon King. But after a while, she gets homesick, and, having pity on her, the Dragon King allows Shimchong to leave his underwater kingdom as a reward for her devotion to her father. Her redemption is when she is allowed to return to the surface. However, she is sent back up in the form of a delicate lotus flower.
The lotus flower is an important symbol, signifying purity, rebirth, and divinity. It grows on muddy riverbanks, rising above the surface into a lovely white blossom. At night, it closes and sinks back into the earth. It repeats this cycle daily, remaining pure and clean, regardless of its murky environment. And it was so with Shimchong, but at night she emerged from the lotus, and during the day she remained concealed inside of it, until she was gifted to the king, and he took her as his wife. While Shimchong was happy, she still suffered the loss of her father. So, upon request of the queen, the king held a celebration for all of the blind men in the kingdom in the hopes that Shimchong's father might arrive. Her faithfulness and devotion led to both her and her father's redemption, for they were both able to be with each other once more. Overjoyed, "Shim forgot his circumstances. He opened his eyes wide, oblivious to his own blindness, and when he did so he found that he could suddenly see."
Shimchong: the Blind Man's Daughter not only tells the story of a daughter's love and devotion to her father, but also sends a message on a much deeper level. It was written as a commentary on the historical and social context in which the story takes place. But most importantly, it teaches how redemption ultimately comes through faith and how faith and family are more important than social class or circumstances.