2020 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior second place
The Three Gifts

“The value of these things is only as good as your own sense. Use them well.” In the Korean folktale, The Three Gifts, translated by Heinz Insu Fenkl, a poor old father on his deathbed conveys this message to his three sons while he entrusts his only possessions: a millstone, a gourd, a bamboo staff, and a drum, to their care. Setting out to find their fortune, and using their good sense and their respective items, the brothers each become rich and successful in their endeavors. This is a tale of cleverness, bravery, and cunning. I interpret this story as a representation that no matter one’s material wealth, intuition and good sense must always surpass it, and to succeed, one must be willing to work hard for one’s goals.

The importance of this story is how meaningfully it portrays a father wishing the best for his children. The dying father, who is so poor that he can only afford to give his sons four items, tells them that the sons can increase the value of the possessions using their wits. By giving them the items that seem so trivial and meager, the father has also secured his sons’ fortune, knowing them to be clever and sensible. The story also explains how the sons each find their own fortune to show that they all have different adventures, left to their own devices. This symbolizes that each son is clever in his own way, just like everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. The first son uses his millstone to scare robbers and take their loot, the second son uses the gourd and the bamboo staff to trick a goblin, in turn inheriting a fortune, and the third son uses his drum and happens upon a dancing tiger, the pair becoming a singing and dancing sensation. Later selling the tiger to a king, his wealth increases still. Throughout all of these adventures, the sons each used their sense and clever wits to turn their luck around.

The character I would relate to the most would be the third son. I am a creative person, and I love music such as singing and playing the violin. Along with using his wits, the third son also used his creativity and song. His lively tune is what caused him to discover the dancing tiger. “He ignored his tiredness and sang as he walked, and moved by a particular surge of joy, he beat his drum and danced a happy dance.” The third son is also positive and innovative in his mindset and attitude. He was exhausted from walking, but was still buoyant and sang his song. Despite the fact that his inheritance was the most meager and useless for a lucrative life, the son still kept high hopes and persevered to be the richest of the three sons. I see myself as a positive person who likes to make the best of what I have. If I was in the third son’s place, I wouldn’t have sold the tiger to the king. While the extra money would be tempting, I would see the tiger as both a stroke of luck and a sign of good fortune, and wouldn’t at all be willing to part with it. I think the third son should’ve kept his unique performance and considerable wealth, instead of trading it for a common performance and extreme wealth.

The message of the story is to always have hope, good sense, and the will to work hard for what one pursues. If the brothers had been sullen and downcast about their father’s meager inheritance, they would have remained in the same melancholy state as before. I believe this story was created to inspire the less fortunate people in this world to never give up and hang one’s head because of one’s bad luck. It is common opinion that people with better fortunes and more opportunities are the most ambitious and successful. However, The Three Gifts contradicts this opinion and argues that while the chances of the brothers’ success were low, the ambition and drive of the brothers helped them rise to fame and wealth. A famous saying goes as such, “You get what you work for, not what you wish for.” Portraying this moral in a charming, heartfelt folktale, The Three Gifts puts work before wealth.

In conclusion, The Three Gifts is a tale of bravery, skill, and three sons making the best of what they have. Join them as they head out into the world, find their fortune, and honor the last wish of their father. While this story seems self-explanatory at first, three brothers striking it rich with a stroke of luck, it uses this simple facade to convey a deeper message: that no matter who someone is and what their fortune is, one should always have good sense and strive to reach one’s success, whatever it may be. While the folktale itself is little in size, the moral is anything but.