2019 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior second place
A New Perspective on The Curse of Three-Year Hill

Have you ever questioned why the human species has made such significant achievements in the short time we have been on this planet? While humans are not the strongest of species, we possess a gift that other species do not; an incredible capability of storytelling. Through storytelling, important morals and critical life lessons are passed down from generation to generation, allowing our society to continuously advance as we learn from past mistakes and achievements. Stories are not only a source of amusement, they teach us life lessons, and The Curse of Three-Year Hill is no exception. In the story the author uses superstitions to explore growth mindset, a concept recently brought to public attention by Carol Dweck, one of the world's leading researchers in the psychology of motivation and progress, to examine different perspectives on life. The main purpose of The Curse of Three-Year Hill is to teach its reader how to take a positive view when faced with challenges, rather than viewing the world in a fixed way limited by superstitions.

The beginning of this well-known folktale depicts the hardworking Farmer Yoon toiling happily on the fields with his family. However, all of the villagers fear the curse of three-year hill, a legend warning that if one falls while crossing the hill, only three years await them in their remaining life. Unfortunately for Yoon, three-year hill is his only pathway to the next village where his business in trade lies. One day, forgetting his usual extreme precaution, Yoon takes a tumble on the dreaded sloping path. Once he realizes that he is cursed, Yoon wastes his days moaning about his fate. His plight is turned around by a sharp-witted young boy who is able to solve Yoon’s crisis through clever mathematics, showing Yoon that rolling down the hill repetitively will double his years infinitely. Yoon learns a lesson to live in the moment and look at situations from a different perspective. The typical happily ever after ending should not only leave the reader satisfied, but have a greater impact on them as well. Before the boy comes to the farmer’s rescue Yoon is stuck on the idea that he cannot live longer than three years. Farmer Yoon lacks an important quality: a growth mindset. It is by no accident that the author chose to give his protagonist such an evident fault--Yoon’s weakness is well incorporated into the theme. Throughout the story, the farmer shows that he has a fault when it comes to persevering and looking at situations in a different way, causing the reader to question the character’s morals, and possibly their own.

A growth mindset is the ability to be open to improvement and willing to look at situations from a different perspective, whereas a fixed mindset is to believe that qualities such as intelligence are fixed traits that cannot be developed. In the folktale, Farmer Yoon’s actions show that he has a fixed mindset when faced with a traumatic situation. Rather than searching for a solution and trying to improve his fading health, he spends his days lamenting his misfortune in what Carol Dweck refers to as “the tyranny of now.” Yoon focuses on the fact that right now, he is destined to die rather than trying to find a solution. The author evidently made Yoon’s fixed mindset observable in order to articulate this idea.

This folktale is also a distinct portrayal of how superstitions affected the lives of people long ago, specifically in Korea. While Yoon and the other villagers refer to the curse of three-year hill as a known fact, the reliability of the dreaded curse becomes questionable as the story develops. While Yoon might have gotten sick because of the curse, there is also a possibility that the farmer’s depression and anxiety concerning the future both escalated to such an extreme level that they were the true source of his illness. This interpretation might cause the reader to believe that the curse of three-year hill is nothing more than a mere superstition. Growing up with a Korean mother, I was introduced to superstitions at an early age. My mother has often advised me of notions such as not shaking your legs (which shakes your luck away), not writing your name in red (which is only used for the deceased), and not giving shoes as presents (because the receiver might run away from you). She defends these superstitions by saying that such ideas are not petty beliefs but wisdom derived from common sense long ago. While this is true, the author understood that some superstitions were outdated, and therefore created this story to explain how people allow superstitions to impact their lives unreasonably.

Fixed and growth mindset are personified by Yoon and the boy, but I feel that at certain times I relate to either, and presume that in such a situation I might have acted depressed like Yoon, yet still willing to search for solutions like the boy. It seems to be an aspect of human nature that we all get stuck in our routines and beliefs, yet we sometimes have moments of inspiration where we are able to think past the barriers of the present reality. Not unlike Yoon’s unchangeable perspective on his situation, superstitions are fixed and set limitations on thinking and behavior. To be free and creative, false restrictions cannot be set, because such constraints set a limit to thinking critically. Without these crucial abilities in the thinking process, storytelling would not exist. Only with the ability to think without predetermined possibilities are we able to express morals artistically. Using the ability of surpassing the boundaries of non-creative thinking to develop and narrate stories is the source of our societies’ cultural evolution over time, and the author helped preserve this way of thinking through the creation of The Curse of Three-Year Hill.