2023 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior third place

Title: Honesty Prevails Over Temptation

The short folktale “The Golden Ax and Silver Axe” by Dr. Dongwol Kim Robertson, is a Korean folktale that reflects aspects of Korea’s history and culture. The story is about a hardworking, Korean man that chops down trees and sells the wood for money. He does this in order to make a meager living to support his elderly mother. One day when the man is chopping down his last tree of the day, he loses his grip on the ax and it flys into the lake, seemingly to never be seen again. A heavenly being known as Shilyongnim, appears in front of the distressed man and offers to help retrieve his ax from the lake. A few moments later, Shilyongnim appears from the pond with a golden ax and a silver ax, but the honest man explains that his ax is just a rusty old ax. Shilyongnim finally finds the man’s rusty ax and brings it to him. Shilyongnim then rewards the man for his honesty with both the golden and silver axs as a gift. Shilyongnim was testing the man to see if he would lie for his personal benefit or stay honest even though the valuable axs could have helped him out a lot.
There is a very obvious, but strong, theme in the folktale and that is; honesty will persevere and honesty is rewarded eventually. The overall message of the story is very true and I would not alter anything ginormous, like the theme, but there are some modifications I would make to enhance and evolve the story. In “The Golden Ax and the Silver Ax”, there is one man and that man is a perfect example of honesty. To make more of a contrast I would add in a character or two that fail to pass the test of the golden and silver axs. This way, when the woodcutter from the story declines the golden and silver axs there would be more contrast, elevating him above the other characters and displaying his honesty even more. Adding one or two characters into the story that end up failing Shilyongnim’s test of honesty would add more layers to the story and give it a little bit of a stronger plot.
The dilemma of the story is that the man’s ax flies into the lake after he loses grip of the handle. It is a unique problem that occurs, but if the problem that occurs were more common or believable, it would have been more relatable and understandable for the reader. Although this story is located in Korea, where being a woodcutter might be more common, the idea of accidentally throwing your ax into a lake seems a bit random. My reasoning for suggesting this change is because if the additional characters were implemented as I suggested previously, having three different characters accidentally throw their axs into a lake seems like quite an exaggeration. Altering the dilemma in the story would have to be done mildly and would need to still be relatable for Korean culture. Changing the problem of the story, even if only a little bit, would still allow Shilyongnim to test the honesty of the characters but just keep it a little less random and a little more plausible.
These changes that I suggested would really add to the story. Adding an extra two characters into the story would help to contrast the woodcutter’s honesty in the face of temptation. If two different characters failed because of greed and dishonesty, the woodcutter from the story would seem to be on another level compared to the other characters. If characters were added into the story, things would have to be altered including the ax flying into the river, because three people accidentally throwing their axs into a lake is pretty improbable. The story would benefit from these changes in my opinion because as long as they are put to good use and don’t end up taking away from the plot, they would really enhance the storyline.