The Tale of Kieu is full of characters, producing long-lasting impressions upon the reader and Dam Tien is one of them, even despite the fact that its role is only supplementary. Dam Tien is an apparition or a ghost that tells the fortune of other people; it represents itself in the form of a young woman.
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Nguyễn Du first mentions this character when Kieu finds her grave. This ghost appears to her and makes a prophecy about the course of major character’s life. In particular, she says that Kieu will have to undergo a great number of hardships and miseries before she eventually finds happiness and love.
It should be noted that the author provided us with biographical details about this character. In the past, she was a singer, “renowned for looks and gifts” (Nguyễn & Huỳnh, p 35, line 63). The writer also tells us that Dam Tien enjoyed considerable success among man who virtually “jostled at her door” (Nguyễn & Huỳnh, p 35, line 64). We also know that this character died in the prime of her life and to some extent, she became a symbol of youth and beauty and ,most importantly, their brevity.
Kieu learned about her life from the story told by Vuong Quan. In this respect, Dam Tien is very reminiscent to Kieu; they are both beautiful and well-educated but their lives are tied with misfortunes (Teo, 352). We do not know whether Dam Tien is sympathetic of the main character or not. She manifests itself only to mark important moments of Kieu’s life but she does not act a guide. However, she appears at those times, when the main heroine needs some consolation (Stickney, 206).
We should also mention that in the past Dam Tien was a songwriter and she is able to appreciate poetry and lyrics. So, when she reads Dam Tien’s lyrics, she praised them and in a way this is also consolation. By praising Kieu’s lyrics this ghost indicated to the main character that she is not alone in her sufferings and that there might be some other people who may understand her or at least try to do it. This is one of its major contributions to the Tale of Kieu.
This character plays an important part in the development of the plot, since the memories of Dam Tien’s prophecy drive Kieu into the depth of despair and she attempts suicide, yet she was saved by Giac Duyen. This ghost becomes the only creature to whom the main character can tell about her misfortunes and grieves.
Yet, one should regard this ghost only as an ill omen since in later parts of the poem Dam Tien finally tells Kieu that she will eventually find her love. She says “with many days ahead, you shall fulfill/your great past love, reap future happiness” (Nguyễn & Huỳnh, line 141).
Again, one has to emphasize the idea that this ghost is observed only by Kieu; other characters do no notice it. Thus, one can argue that it might be a figment of Kieu’s imagination. As it has been said before, Dam Tien is a secondary character but it does help the reader to better understand the inner world of Kieu and her feelings. This is one of the reasons why it is so important for this poem.
Nguyễn Du & and Sanh Thông Huỳnh. The tale of Kieu. Randon House, 1973. Print.
Stickney Mary. River of Pearls. iUniverse, 2004. Print
Teo Hsu-Ming. Behind the Moon. Soho Press 2007. Print.