2023 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior first place (tie)


My book of fairytales still holds a place of honor on my bedside bookshelf – the binding is well-worn, the pages crinkly, but these are the marks of love from when I spent hours of my childhood growing poring over the small letters, holding the book in my tiny fists. These fairy tales were not only an escape into another world but also places where I could learn lessons like treating others the way I want to be treated. A classic example of one of these fairy tales is the story of Kongjui and Potjui, the Korean rendition of the popular Western Cinderella story. The story is about Kongjui, a young girl whose mother died when she was born. Her father remarries and her new stepmother treats Kongjui horribly while she lets her daughter do whatever she wants. Luckily, Kongjui was a kind person and was rewarded by animals who helped her out with the difficult chores her stepmother assigns her. Finally, the heavenly maiden helps her to get married to the magistrate and she lives happily ever after. Readers can learn from the main characters in this story, including the protagonist, Kongjui, and how they approach situations. The story of Cinderella is long-lasting because its lesson can help readers become kinder as they see how Kongjui’s good karma eventually pays off and allows her to find happiness. However, while this lesson can be helpful, it needs to be changed because it is unfitting for the modern world, where people cannot rely on luck or fantastical creatures like magistrates passing by, Heavenly Maids, and talking toads that are the saviors in this story.

Currently, in the original story, Kongjui lacks autonomy and is dependent on the actions of others in the story. She is a passive character, and many external forces that she cannot control must rescue her because she is unable to care for her rights. If I could change the story, I would have Kongjui show initiative in standing up against the abuse she is experiencing from her step-family by having her raise her voice and take advantage of the resources available to her. A changed and braver Kongjui would be an inspiring role model for readers. Many around the world are oppressed by others who are much more powerful than them, and those prosecuted people usually have their freedom of speech taken away. Kongjui’s story could plant the first seeds of bravery in people so that they can stand up for themselves, which would be essential.

In Kongjui’s case, changing her fate would involve communicating with her father so that he would stand up for Kongjui against the stepmother and give her advice on the situation. Personally, my parents have always been key figures in helping me through hardships whenever I needed them. Parents are obligated to look after and care for their children, which is what the father should have been doing for her. Furthermore, it would have been difficult for Kongjui herself to directly confront her stepmother, given that the setting is several hundred years ago. Back then, it was much harder for children to go against their parents because it was considered very rude to talk back or to argue. It would have been difficult for Kongjui to directly confront her stepmother. Thus, Kongjui reaching out to her father would be most realistic, show her resourcefulness, and effectively curb issues since he is the head of the household. Her father would become aware of how Kongui is being abused by her stepmom, and he would be able to support her in taking the necessary actions to stop the stepmother’s behavior. The plotline of the story would consist of Kongjui repairing her relationship with her father and the entire family. This would be achieved by the father confronting the stepmom about the amount of work that Kongjui is struggling with and after a heated argument, the stepmom would realize how her jealousy has turned her into a horrible mother. After a sincere apology to Kongjui, all daughters would be treated equally with both daughters helping out with chores. The stepmother would have a great chance at redemption. Although the parents could become divorced, the more appropriate solution would be for the stepmother to become fairer and remain in the family, as that will be the happiest ending for both Kongjui and the reader. Ultimately, there would be a positive ending with Kongjui following in her father’s footsteps and would become an active woman who was dominating her field by being a successful merchant.

With this new and improved happy ending, readers can understand that happiness can be found through their actions of bravery, communication, and tact. Through her relationship with her father, Kongjui can stand up for herself by finding a more supportive way to confront her stepmother and thus be the inspiration to help readers to talk to someone about their problems instead of keeping silent. Although the original lesson of Kongjui and Potjui is important, being kind will not be enough to survive in the real world, even if it is one of her strengths. She needs to take it further and speak out against the injustices towards her. With this modified story, readers can feel empathy for Kongjui and apply her actions to their own lives in the real world. They can become empowered to be a voice in the world and to speak up for themselves against oppressors, thinking of Kongjui’s bravery against her stepmother.