2019 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior third place

Whenever one is reminded of folktales, an individual may think of the amazing ways lessons contained inside these stories are transferred on from generation to generation no matter the culture. A folktale is capable of creating opportunities to understand and visualize important life lessons while educating the reader about diverse cultures. In the folktale, The Golden Ax and Silver Ax, a young woodcutter who is poor but good-natured clumsily throws his old ax into the water. After a lot of grief and sorrow, a god named Shilyongnim suddenly appears to find a golden, silver, and a rusty ax, but the woodcutter denies the valuable axes and asks for the rusty one he originally owned. The god was so impressed by his honesty that he rewarded all three axes to the woodcutter. The moral of this folktale is that honesty is rewarded. But should honesty be rewarded?

The lesson of honesty does not explain how the woodcutter developed and as a matter of fact, there was no evidence about what he acquired from this traumatic experience when he lost his ax. Consequently, the woodcutter did not deserve those axes because he did not overcome his internal challenge of persistence as he simply gave up and sobbed, evading any endurance to be required. Although the woodcutter’s action of overcoming the temptation of the two valuable axes is commendable, this is not an excuse for the lack of explanation for how the woodcutter developed throughout the course of the story. Many doubts occur because of the absence of evidence: How can we tell that the woodcutter was able to learn his lesson from the clumsiness when he dropped his ax? If Shilyongnim was not there, would the decisions of the young woodcutter still be the same? By including more explanation on the growth of the main character, this folktale could easily impact the reader in a much more compelling way. Finally, the moral was very limited and could be conveyed with much more detail in order to impact the reader dramatically. The woodcutter made his decisions out of integrity and did not succumb to greed, so this should be acknowledged. This moral of honesty is very important, but is that all the folktale is trying to teach us? Honesty should not be an aspect of your life that is rewarded. Instead, honesty should be mandatory and normal in life to succeed. Therefore, he does not deserve such valuable items for following the rules and having integrity in his society.

In my version, instead of beginning the folktale with the woodcutter being an honest and hard-working person, he could possibly begin as someone who is dishonest and relies on mischievous actions like trickery to resolve his problems both financially and emotionally. Then, the woodcutter will be able to recognize that lying has many ruthless consequences which can open him up to honesty and slowly lead up to the decisions of not lying to Shilnimyong. This can show a dramatic change from a liar to a person with lots of integrity and will to help others. Because it can display that he has overcome his internal challenges of perseverance and honesty, it will make more sense to the reader.

In order to also express Korea’s value and high expectations of honesty and helping out others, the woodcutter would receive a polished version of his rusty ax before the valuable axes. Later in the folktale, the woodcutter would seize the moment to take care of his village and help villagers complete various tasks in order to positively impact his society despite the fact that he was barely clinging on to make a living for him and his mother. This is because he deserves a small reward that is not over the top for obeying the rules in his Korean society, but by going above and beyond all expectations to help out others, he deserves an even greater prize like the silver and golden axes. Since he put kindness towards a good cause, he will eventually be able to merit and receive all three axes. By changing this, it allows the reader to learn more about Korea’s culture, values, and beliefs while also staying logically organized.

Also, the moral can become more effective, and can also convey a different lesson that says honesty is mandatory and that one should not even have the temptation of lying out of greed. Specifically, lying and greed does not lead to success which can deliver a deeper message to the reader. This can be further explained by possibly adding a similar opportunity early in the story to the three axes where the woodcutter surrenders to greed and receives no rewards for his selfish actions which will allow the woodcutter to realize the consequences of selfishness. Because of this, it dramatically displays an influential moral that sets higher expectations for the reader to follow.

In conclusion, my version of TheGolden Ax and Silver Ax can present an alternative to show the growth of the woodcutter over the course of the story and a deeper moral that causes the reader to ponder. By approaching this tale from a different perspective, you will notice many open-ended questions that strongly express the lack of explanation in this story. Does he truly deserve such valuable axes for following rules? Since honesty is a standard through many cultures and especially Korea, people should respect that and follow it even though there is no reward, yet the woodcutter received axes that were worth fortunes for following this standard. Is this simply showing that we are all liars and dishonest people? Is this really what the tale is attempting to convey? Finally, my version provides much more explanation and demeanor to enhance the ability of the folktale to impact the reader effectively.