Tong Thomson Ng
Theme essay of “The Tale of Kieu”
In The Tale of Kieu by Nguyen Du, the author wanted to express a lot of messages such as human strength, weakness and friendship, etc. And one of the most important and significant messages among the whole story is love. But love can become hate easily. It is not hard for the readers to see that there is a love triangle which included Miss Hoan, Thuc Ky Tam and Kieu. However, the evolution of this triangle seems to be not really good. Miss Hoan, prestigious and high class: “wore a great clan name: her father ruled Civil Office Board” (Du, 1529-30), the
vengeful wife of Thuc Ky Tam who was betrayed by her husband and Kieu expressed a lot of negative emotions which derived from love. She became a cruel, evil, and resentful woman later in the whole story. As a result, we can see that Miss Hoan is indeed an immoral character in the story. I say this because not only she was being cruel, stubborn and standing up for herself who put usage of rude language and action to others, but she also put all these emotions into revenge to make Kieu being suffered.
Someone might think Miss Hoan is moral because she let Kieu to tend the shrine, and stopped pursuing Kieu when Kieu was fleeing. They might also think that Miss Hoan showed her contrite spirit in the story finally. She was caught by soldiers and waiting for the punishments as a prisoner by Kieu. “I have a woman‟s mind, a petty soul, and jealousy‟s a trait all humans share. I felt esteem for you in my own heart—what woman, though, would gladly share her
man? I‟m sorry I strewed thorns along your path—may I beseech your mercy on my fate?”
(Du, 2365-72) A strong and evil woman who hated Kieu such deeply should not be surrendered easily, but she beseeched Kieu’s mercy instead. However, I believe that she was just afraid to be executed or punished instead of beseeching Kieu as she hated Kieu who even staged to kill kieu all the time.
Miss Hoan is immoral because of her cruel and evil personalities towards all the others. “She
bade her lackeys execute her law, slapping their mouths and knocking out their teeth” (Du,
1561-62). She treated her slaves with a lot of cruelties which is inhuman and cruel without any pity or compassion. “She gloried her soul: „This sweet revenge makes up for the grief that festered in my breast‟” (Du, 1868-69), which shows that she even enjoyed torturing people as a
habit. Also, she enslaved Kieu and renamed her “Flower”, administered thirty lashes upon arrival
which is really brutal.
Moreover, Miss Hoan’s desirable revenging character towards Kieu made her being immoral relentlessly. She staged the death of Kieu which consequently her kidnapping went undetected until Thuc Ky Tam rediscovered her in his household, as a slave. “If only he‟d confessed, told
me the truth, I might have favored her with my good grace.” (Du, 1539-40) She even feigns
leave of her home, only to lure Kieu and Thuc to speak candidly of their love. I‟ll make them
loathe and shun each other‟s sight. I‟ll crush her so she cannot rear her head. I‟ll rub the spectacle of his bare face and make the traitor feel my iron hand.” (Du, 1549-1552) She is
extremely jealous and claimed herself a jealous shrew; she just cannot endure the failure and betrayal of love by her husband and Kieu. Therefore, she believed that revenge is the only way to express her angry emotion. “I‟ve picked some trusted lads to man a boat, go there and bring her back with feet in chains. Then I‟ll drive her out of her mind and wits. I will torture her
for all the world to see” (Du, 1615-18), Her mischievous planning and cruelties led Kieu into
endless dilemma and hardships.
Contrast with Kieu, Miss Hoan is viewed as an evil woman that is manipulative and cruel,
and resentful, and all the more sinister for acting with such deliberateness while Kieu is being oppressed, doing everything for family, and enduring all the hardships. She actually acts as the most hateful person towards Kieu in the whole story. Therefore, she is definitely immoral according to the definition of immorality: violating moral principles, not conforming to the patterns of conduct usually accepted or established as consistent with principles of personal and social ethics. However, the reader might thank her that because of her cruel actions towards Kieu which forced Kieu to escape from the suffering, and indirectly guided Kieu towards Giac Duyen who inspires religious awakening in Kieu helping her to overcome the following obstacles in the story. Such an immoral person indirectly helped Kieu a little bit which she never expected eventually. And she was spared by Kieu as well.
Du, Nguyen. The Tale of KIEU. Trans, Huynh Sanh Thong. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1983.
Worked with Reading and Writing Center, ATC 309, Rodrigo Jiminez, Wai Lok Choi, Hiu Wa Tong, Rida Memon, Yuqian Lin and Chongfan Zhao.