USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘cautionary tale’
general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

“The Tale of Heungbu and Nolbu,” Korean Tale

Main Piece: “Once upon a time, there were two brothers named Heungbu and Nolbu. Nolbu, the older of the two, was a greedy man and after their father died he got the heritage and family fortune. Huengbu, who was at this point dirt poor, received little to nothing from the family heritage. Nolbu lived in a fancy house, that was made of a brick roof and his house was safe from wind and rain, but Huengbu lived in a house under reed. One day, a bird flew to the younger brother’s house and it crashed into the ground breaking its leg. Heungbu felt bad for the bird and so he took it upon himself to treat it nicely, feed it, and nurture it, even though he had little to no food for his own family.The bird eventually healed from its wound, and when it was ready to leave it gave Heungbu a seed of a plant. When he planted this seed and watered it, a month later gold began growing out of the plant. This plant provided for Heungbu and his family, and he was able to sustain a better life due to the plant and the kindness of the bird. Word spread of this to Nolbu and when he heard about the brother’s plant he got jealous, and sought to seek this out for himself. After a few days, Nolbu found the same bird that Heungbu had nurtured back to health, and when he got a hold of the bird he broke its leg. He then proceeded to heal the bird, like the younger brother, giving the bird food and treating to the wound. When the bird was healed, it too gave Nolbu a seed, and left. While Nolbu was excited that he had been given the famous seed, when he planted it and watered it the plant did not provide gold like it did for Heungbu, From that seed came a bunch of ghosts and other bad spirits to destroy his house and wealth. Heungbu was then left with nothing as everything he owned had been taken away by the bad spirits.”

 

Background: MP is from South Korea, and he says that he heard this story from his parents when he was growing up. He mentioned that it had a very special place in his heart as it was a tale that he found particularly interesting. Additionally he goes on to explain that one of the main reasons he likes this story so much is that he finds the message to be very relevant to his culture and his values. He interprets this story as being a commentary on having a good heart, and a good mindset for the actions that you take. “its not always about doing a good deed, it’s about the spirit. It’s why you do it, and the people who have a good spirit will eventually come out on top at the end.”

 

Context of Performance: MP performed this story for me at my apartment, while we were discussing each other’s different cultures and the stories that are most common to our respective families.

 

Analysis: I find this piece to be very indicative of the cultural values from South Korea. In talking with MP, he mentioned that honor and having an honorable heart of of the utmost importance. This tale seems to perfectly explore that very theme, as it shows the benefits for the poor brother when he acts out of kindness even though he has nothing. And likewise I believe this piece is also warning of the consequences for doing things for the wrong reasons, and being greedy. Because while both brothers technically did the same thing for the bird, the greedy brother’s intentions were for personal gain and personal gain alone. He did not care for the bird, and even went so far as to harm the creature so as to be able to heal it. These values are somewhat similar in America, so it is interesting to see how well this story crosses over from one culture to mine. In America we put a lot of emphasis on honor and doing the right thing, however I would say we don’t always condemn greed and attempting to pursue wealth. In fact, because American culture is so capitalistic it could even be argued that there is potential for greed to be a unwanted consequence of the very American desire to “obtain wealth and power.”

general

Scary story

“When I was in Elementary school there was this weird scary story, well it scared me to death at the time. This one girl, Samantha told me her babysitter told it to her.

This one girls parents left her home for a night, home alone and when the girl went to bed she felt her dog licking her hand and then heard dripping in the bathroom. Um and then she went into the bathroom and saw that her dog was dead in the bathroom with blood dripping. That was the dripping. And then she went back to her room and there was a man in there that killed her.

Samantha told everybody in our class this story, at least all the girls. She was a few years older than us so she seemed really cool and we believed her. ”

So about how old were you?
“I would say like second grade so seven or eight.”

For how long did this story scary you?

“It scared me for awhile. I would say, I asked my mom about the story and she said she had heard it too. So i stopped being so scared by it because I realized it was fake. But now I don’t know if she said that because it was true or she was just trying to make me feel better.”

Did it change any of your behavior, after hearing it?

“Not really. It just made me more cautious at night. I didn’t want to walk my house at night by myself. But I got over that.”

So this story wasn’t popular amongst the boys?

“No, it was definitely just the girls.”

 

The informant has provided a cautionary tale warning against children being (left) home alone. It is interesting that the informant noted that the story was directed towards the girls and not boys, even before I inquired again about it. The story warns against young females about being alone and not young boys. It could be said that females are more physically vulnerable than males. Also, girls especially young ones are more often victims of abuse and assault than their male counterparts. I also found it interesting that there is no implications that the girl in the story put herself in the position of being home alone so she is not directly responsible for the repercussions. I’m assuming since the original source of this story was a babysitter, her intention was to reinforce the important of her presence while the girls parents were away. Most elementary school kids perceive themselves to be older than they are and without need of adult supervision so this tale serves as a violent reminder that they still need to be taken care of and protected.

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
Tales /märchen

Donuts, Donuts, Donuts!

Item:

“You know this is my favorite joke ever. Because it’s hilarious. And also because I’ve probably told it to you a million times. So this young guy, who comes from a minority population and speaks pretty limited English, starts working at a donut joint. At this point, he’s told to say ‘Donuts, donuts, donuts!’ to customers with questions. So the first day of work, this customer comes in and asks ‘what do you sell here?’ The guy who works there does as he’s told and says, ‘Donuts, donuts, donuts!’ But he says that to every other question he’s asked, which are ‘How much to they cost?’, ‘Are they fresh?’, and ‘Should I buy them?’. Supremely confused, the customer leaves. So the manager tells the kid to say ‘Twenty five cents’ when asked how much they cost. Then another customer comes in with the same questions – ‘What do you sell here?’, ‘Donuts, donuts, donuts!’, ‘How much do they cost?’ ‘Twenty five cents.’, ‘Are they fresh?’, ‘Twenty five cents.’, ‘Should I buy them?’ ‘Twenty five cents.’ The manager, an understanding guy, tells the kid to say ‘Very, very fresh’ when he’s asked if the donuts are fresh. And so, naturally, in walks a third customer. The same suite of questions is asked, and instead of answering ‘Yes!’ to ‘Should I buy them?’, the poor kid answers, ‘Very, very fresh!’. Obviously because he doesn’t know any better. Now starting to get fed up, the manager tells him to respond, ‘Do it before somebody else does!’ to the question ‘Should I buy them?’.

And so, now that the kid’s finally got everything down, guess who comes in next? A guy dressed in black who’s obviously robbing the joint. The exchange goes like this:

Burglar – Whaddaya sell here?!

Kid – Donuts, donuts, donuts!

Burglar – How much you got in the register?

Kid – Twenty five cents.

Burglar – Are you acting fresh with me?!?!

Kid – Very, very fresh.

Burglar – That’s it! I’m gonna shoot you!

Kid – Do it before somebody else does!

And so, you can probably guess how the story ends.”

Context:

I was reminded that I already knew the context of this story, but I asked the informant to relate it anyway. “This is our family’s favorite joke. Ever,” he said. “You know because I’ve been telling it since we were kids. It shows you how a nice guy with a limitation in his knowledge of the English language, of which he is benignly unaware, gets in trouble because of his blissful ignorance.”

Analysis:

This joke takes on more than one form. It can be seen as a blason populaire against non English-speaking minorities, a darkly comedic cautionary tale against the disadvantages of not knowing the English language, and gallows humor. It is made apparent at the very beginning by the performer that the kid in the story is unfamiliar with English, and this is what ultimately ends up getting him shot by a burglar. In a rapidly globalizing society, the importance of the lingua franca is highlighted at the end of the sordidly humorous tale. Confused and dissatisfied customers might not be that big of a deal, but angry, armed pastry bandits? Nuh-uh.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Charity

Item:

“Once a beggar, do a good deed. Twice a beggar, pay him no heed.”

Context:

The informant related to me the importance of this proverb in his life – “This proverb is a rule to live by. When I first came across it, I liked it because it rhymed and had a nice rhythm to it. But it served me well later in life. I remember when I was starting in the business world, and even much, much later, I was approached by several charity cases who had real talent in fields that were vital to my firm and my business. Therefore, I gave them chances. And more chances. And yet more chances. Until I realized one day that they were obviously trying to swindle me by quietly taking advantage of my generosity. It was then that I remembered this proverb. Since then, I have lived by it religiously. Everyone gets one opportunity. If you blow it, so long.”

Analysis:

This proverb is actually quite simple and easy to remember due to, as the informant said, its rhyme and rhythm. It came in handy a lot later, when he realized that people were conning him because of his affinity to give out infinite “second” chances. It is, therefore, a precautionary proverb. It is also rather pessimistic, even slightly cynical, because it serves to remind people that not everyone in the world is deserving of a second chance, even those who seem most sincere. It also is a harsh reminder that people are not as nice and genuine as we chalk them to be. The informant’s experience demonstrates this clearly, because no matter how pure his intentions were, people always tried to put one over him because he was just too darn nice. It is also a warning against freeloaders, telling us to remember that while it is right to help someone out in need, one mustn’t let this pity blind one to the parasitism that is fueled by excessive generosity.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Silence Is Not Always Golden

Item:

“Be wary of silent dogs and still waters.”

Context: 

The source interviewed related his personal experiences with this particular proverb – “Growing up, I always made the wrong friends. I didn’t know they were the wrong friends, but my dad did. Because he was my dad, and he knew everything. My friends were those people who would be incredibly sweet and make easy conversation, but would be very guarded around other people about their own secrets and opinions. One day, I stumbled upon these guys talking the classroom. I was outside in the corridor, and they didn’t know that I was there and listening to them. Naturally, they were talking about me. And they said some things that I can’t repeat in front of you. Upset, I went home and complained to my dad, who told me ‘Be wary of silent dogs and still waters’ – meaning it in particular about people who don’t voice their opinions on others frankly and instead plot and scheme behind the backs of others.”

Analysis:

This proverb is a classic Indian warning against people who don’t talk. Indian people in general are quite talkative, never hesitating to share their opinions, even and sometimes especially when it proves to awkward or unwanted. Therefore, when people aren’t talking, it means that they must be up to something. So, when someone isn’t being obnoxiously vocal about their opinions on your personality, sever all ties with them, because they probably don’t like or care about you.

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