Symbolic Imagery and Theme of Morality in The Tale of Kieu. Essay
Updated: Sep 19th, 2018
Imagery is one of the strongest elements used in literature, and especially in poetry. It is one of the major means which is often used in order to develop the theme of the tale. There are many types of imagery used in the poetry: nature imagery, imagery of smell, view and hearing, weather imagery, etc. Symbolic imagery is one of the strongest means available to the authors too convey the message.
The most commonly used elements of imagery are taken from nature. Indeed, the elements of nature have deep philosophical and cultural context, thus, they presents a great help to the writer when developing a particular theme.
Moon imagery is often used in literature, especially in Asian, because moon is very symbolic and takes a very significant place in the Vietnamese life and culture. The story of Kieu is considered to be a masterpiece and it is well known to every Vietnamese. The author uses symbolic imagery of the moon in order to develop the theme of morality.
This imagery explores the character of the main hero of the tale, Kieu, and moral choice that she faced. Using the moon, the author demonstrates the purity of the soul of the main character despite harsh conditions of her life. In particular, the author addresses symbolic imagery of the moon when talking about mental state of Kieu, her appearance and how she managed to remain the same girl as she was before the events.
For Vietnamese, The Tale of Kieu became, “a kind of continuing emotional laboratory in which all the great and timeless issues of personal morality and political obligation are tested and resolved (or left unresolved) for each new generation” (Swensson n. p.).
Thus, it is no wonder that the author uses the uses the imagery of the moon in order to explore the mental state of the main character in situations that she encounters in her life. First of all, the author refers to moon when describing the purity of Kieu’s first love, “The stark bright moon was gazing from the skies/ as with one voice both mouths pronounced the oath” (Du line 25). Moon is associated with the Keeu’s mood.
The mood is bright, as well as the mood. We meet the image of the moon each time when Kieu is happy, or when the situation is positive. For example, when she comes back home after a long time, “the waning moon shines more than at its full” (Du 161). The girl is happy and the moon shines brightly. However, moon is a symbol of not a good mood only, but appears when the girl is sad, “An autumn night-through windows wafts of breez;/ high in the sky, a crescent moon, three stars.” (Du 85).
Moon is used to describe the appearance of the main character, as well as her sister Thuy Van. In Vietnam mythology, there is a goddess of the moon which is considered to be the icon of beauty.
The girls are described as “her (Van) face of a moon, her eyebrows two full curves” (Du 3) and “She (Kieu) ought to rule the moon.” (Du 57). Van is beautiful as the mood, but Kieu is even more beautiful. She possesses the features of the Moon goddess which means, that she has the same qualities; that she is not only beautiful, but tender, graceful and gentle, with the same moral qualities.
As it has already been mentioned, the nature imagery (moon) is used to develop a theme of the tale and address the moral issues. As the moon is associated with the main character, the author refers to Kieu when developing this theme. The girl was forced to meet difficult circumstances.
Each time, the presence of the moon accompanied these dramatic events. We can see that regardless the “turns of fate” and harsh circumstances, the girl managed to remain the same personality that she was at the beginning when manifesting her pure feeling of love to Kim.
She was forced to go against morality and sell her body, but her soul was guarded by the moon. Her actions were moral from the point of view of her intentions. Thus, we can conclude that moon preserved her morality and her soul remained as pure as the moon. The moon was a witness to her innocence. “We’ve had no chance to tie the marriage tie. / But it’s still there, the moon that we swore by:/ not face to face, we shall stay heart to heart” (Du 29).
It can be considered that the author shows the immorality of the tale. Indeed, the girl’s actions were immoral, even when her intention was sincere. In this regard, the imagery is used to contrast the purity of the moon with immorality of the girl. However, the girl did a moral choice, and thus her actions are moral. The image of the moon at the end of the tale supports this.
The image of the moon plays an important role in the tale. The author makes use of the moon imagery to develop the theme of the story and address moral issues. The image of the moon is used to describe the appearance, mental state and morality of the main character. It also helps in understanding of the problem of the Kieu’s moral choice. Thus, the author estimates that the girl managed to save her morality and the innocence of her soul regardless the circumstances she faced.
Du, Nguyen. The Tale of Kieu. Trans. Huynh Sanh Thong. New Haven: Yale University, 1983.
Swensson, John. “Kim Trong and Scholar Ma Section”. Lecture by John Swensson, Oct. 1998. Web.
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