“The Tale of Kieu” is a Vietnamese epic poem written by, Nguyễn Du (1766–1820). It is one of the most important pieces of Vietnamese literature. It is a moving story about a young Vietnamese girl named Kieu who attempts to undo the wrongs of her past life, by enduring hardships.
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Through the story, we are drawn into the world of Vietnamese culture and way of life. The writer depicts injustice within the feudal system, after the dethroning of the Le Dynasty, and the status of women then. Even though the story is about 200 years old, it still holds true, as the plight of many young Vietnamese women is almost the same in today’s world. One of the main issues and controversies surrounding the story of the protagonist is morality.
Many people consider this an immoral story, as it depicts the life of a prostitute. On the contrary, this story lends a voice to millions of women across the globe that human trafficking is a horrendous crime that exists even in this sophisticated world. “The Tale of Kieu” is a moral work as it depicts the hardship of a woman, who is forced into prostitution, to save her family from poverty, and betrayed by the men she loved. It exemplifies the plight of many young women who are trapped in slavery.
The main protagonist Kieu is sold into prostitution and is constantly deceived by the men in her life. Despite this, she tries to maintain her dignity, and face her problems with determination. The author of the story focuses on the good as well as the bad aspects in the life of the protagonist.
On many occasions in the story, we can see that Kieu is not an innocent character. But, this may be because of the fact that she has been wronged so many times in life, that she did what she thought right for her. She realized from her early day that she cannot trust anyone in her life and that she has to look after herself for her survival. Many of her acts reveal that originally she is not a morally degraded woman.
One cannot deny the moral act, when she refused Kim’s lustful designs on her, when they first met. As they were not married yet, she found it wrong to sleep with him, as maintaining chastity till marriage was the right, moral action for any woman. They were deeply in love with and initially when each other, kim professes his love for her, she replies, “ll etch your word, our troth, in stone and bronze” (Du). But, at the same time, she goes back on her vows, as she bends to the circumstance of her life rather than upholding her vows.
Even though she fails to keep her promise to her true love, she is dutiful to her father, and she sacrifices herself to save her family from poverty and prison. Her sacrifice to save her family from hardship and poverty is nerve wrecking. Throughout her ordeals, she is used and abused by men. Yet she remains duty found, and responsible to her family. When she is visited by a ghost who reminds her about her bad “karma” and when she foresees her doom, she says,
“How sorrowful is woman’s lot!
How sternly fate will deal with all of us!” (Du par. 2).
We can see that her fall is not her doing. It is the pressure of circumstances that make her immoral. Many people could relate this to their surroundings, as there are many in the same circumstance as Kieu. Through Kieu’s story the author reveals the hard realities of life. Life has its own course as it is already scripted.
Kieu represents those who are born to sacrifice everything in life, for their family. Even though, the protagonist tries to be virtuous, her circumstances in life do not allow her to be the person she wants to be. Fate has other things in store for her. Kieu is not an immoral woman, but just a victim of her fate.
Du, Nguyen. The Tale of Kieu. Paper Masters. A Division of E World Publishing, Inc. Web.