2022 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior second place
Folktale: The Grateful Tiger

Title: “The Grateful Tiger” Through a Contemporary Lens

A folktale is a drop of amber, a glistening preservation of a society’s aspects. In that amber, the state of the present is reflected, shedding light on the conflicts and issues of our own. In today’s world which is troubled with bitter conflicts– a devastating combination of a prolonged pandemic and even an abrupt military invasion– kindness has assumed a greater significance. In fact, there has never been a moment in the 21st Century when empathy was needed more. That is why “The Grateful Tiger,” a Korean folktale that illustrates the importance of kindness is resonating with modern readers.

“The Grateful Tiger,” translated by Kim So-un, is a story about a young student and a tiger. While passing by, the young student encounters a tiger that happens to have a bone stuck in its throat. Cautiously, the student pulls out the bone, and the tiger appears in the student’s dream as a human girl who thanks the student for his kindness and promises to return the student’s favor. Years later, the student fails an exam to become a government official and is distraught.
However, the tiger reappears in the student’s dreams that night and explains she will wreak havoc throughout the city the following day as the tiger. She adds no one except for the student will be able to bring down the tiger, which will reward him the title of a nobleman. As a final message, the girl explains the bean paste acquired from the Temple of Hungryung will heal those wounded in the scuffle and advises the student to administer the paste. Although the student initially refuses in what he sees as a cowardly act, the girl insists, and the student shoots the tiger the following day and is made a nobleman. Afterward, the student supplies the injured with the healing bean paste and becomes famous.

The goal of “The Grateful Tiger” is to illustrate the importance of generosity and to shed light on the notion that what one puts out into the world returns back to oneself in the same manner. When the young student gathers his courage to remove the bone from the tiger’s throat, he is rewarded for his empathy and kindness. As shown in “The Grateful
Tiger,” one’s offering of hospitality is not always imminent or immediate. Nonetheless, goodwill finds a way of coming back in distinct ways. In a sense, the sweetness or sympathy you offer to others is what prompts future feelings of the same courtesy to you and is the spark that lights the tender blaze of trust. The concept of treating others the way one would prefer to be treated blossoms from what “The Grateful Tiger” brings to attention. This folktale may trace its origins to the early recognition of solicitude amongst people and the necessity it holds.

The tiger from “The Grateful Tiger'' insists on repaying the young student’s kindness by rewarding the student with the title of a nobleman. I resonate with the tiger the best because the act of returning one’s solicitude is loyalty, the adherence to not only receive but also exchange generosity. When the Coronavirus pandemic began due to the SARS- COV-2 virus, determined, loyal frontline heroes stepped up to strengthen humanity. Researchers tirelessly worked to create a vaccine. Countless nurses and doctors took risks to discover what the virus truly was and inform the public of important safety measures. In response, the public took care to understand the risks and take measures to protect others. Just like in “The Grateful Tiger,” we, the public, were rewarded with several vaccines and treatments against the virus. For me, I was indebted to the loyalty of those working on the frontlines. Therefore, the vaccine symbolizes the fruit of exchanging fidelity. When communities put hard work into protecting themselves and others from the virus, researchers and scientists returned the favor through the vaccine. Because of the significance of loyalty in my life, especially during these times, I relate with the tiger the most.

“The Grateful Tiger'' exemplifies the necessity for kindness and goodwill in the community. Though the world continues to undergo heavy changes, and it is common to exhale in defeat in times of hopelessness, empathy remains present. Compassion is shared in remarkably similar fashions to how the young student and the tiger exchanged sympathy in this folktale. Above all, there has never been a time when the need for strengthening compassion is apparent as the present. While there is a future where all slowly transitions and recovers back to normal, there’s also a quicker, faster route. For that efficient transformation, let us bear in mind the message of “The Grateful Tiger” and strive towards brightening the future.