The Tale of Kieu by Nguyen Du revolves around Vuong Thuy Kieu, a gorgeous and well-educated woman. Her family experiences difficult times following the imprisonment of her father and brother. Kieu is overwhelmed by the difficult situations her family is going through because his father is in prison so she decides to stay with a man who is elderly. However, she does not realize that her decision will transform her into a singer, a prostitute, and a servant. The Tale of Kieu is an important story that epitomizes the nature of Vietnamese literature. Many literary techniques are employed in the story to bring out different themes. Nature imagery is one of the elements of literature evident in ‘The Tale of Kieu.’
Nature Imagery in ‘The Tale of Kieu’
The Tale of Kieu was written many years ago to highlight different circumstances but the story is still relevant to date. The moon is an important image of the daily lives of the people of Vietnam. In the traditional setting, the moon was used to count days following the lunar calendar and celebrations of harvest moon festivals. It is a common symbolic figure used in different literary works in Vietnam as witnessed in the Tale of Kieu. In the story, the beauty of Thuy Van who is a sister to Kieu is compared with the moon. The author says ‘Her face is like the moon, her eyes brows are two full curves’ (Khanh n.d).
The image of the moon is used in describing how gentle and innocent Thuy Van is. The author makes use of natural phenomena to bring out the charm of Kieu by using words such as Eyes like rivers in the autumn, brows like mountains in the spring, the flowers are jealous of her beauty and the willows are left green with envy Kieu is characterized by extreme beauty and a remarkable talent but is forced to indulge in prostitution and servitude in a bid to salvage her family. Despite these challenges, she still honors herself until she is reunited with her family and her love after years of adventures. In the end, she meets Kim Trong on the day she found the grave of Dam Tien, the moon being a witness to her troubles in life.
When Kieu goes to see Kim Trong secretly at night, she observes ‘shadowy patches of moonlight filtering through the branches, illuminating the courtyard path’ (Khanh n.d). According to Vietnamese traditions, it was wrong for a girl to see a man in his place of residence during the night. Kieu required dark shadows that would prevent curious people from seeing her but the moonlight was so bright that it showed her the path leading to the apartment of Kim. The moonlight was also flickering, an indication of how nervous she was because of her desire to see her love. The new moon that shines on the first day she comes to see her love symbolizes her first love. The moon is described to have been wandering and moving slowly above the willow tree as Kieu walked stealthily to approach the apartment of her lover. Both Kieu and the moon are sharing in the same feelings (Vietnam Culture 2006).
During the secret meeting, Kieu and Kim Trong broke into a chorus during which they said their eternal vows. The pledge of the union is done in a place where it is only the moon that witnesses. In the song, they declare that they will love each other all the days they will be together and their deepest feelings which are fine like silk threads will keep them together eternally. Despite the vows Kieu and Kim made under the moon, Kieu did not keep the promise because she sells herself as a prostitute to save her family. She is compelled to indulge in prostitution and when she looks at the moon, it is a painful reminder that the moon having witnessed all their vows was crying shame.
Kieu went through many adventures but finally, she reunited with her family members and her loved ones. She considered it lucky to be united with Kim in the end and so she decided to tie the knot with him. Her marriage to Kim was an image of constancy that after going through difficult times, her desire to be with Kim was fulfilled. They became everlasting friends and renewed their vows to remain faithful to one another, with the moon being their witness. For the remaining days of their lives, Kieu and Kim spend most of their time playing and admiring the beauty of flowers. The moon became part of the joyful life they shared and waiting for the rising moon became one of their favorite hobbies (Vietnam Culture 2006).
The tale of Kieu addresses the young people who cannot avoid falling in love. Love often leads to heartbreaks and brings with it things that are never anticipated in life including disappointments. The moon is an image that is constantly used in the story of Kieu to bring out the salient concerns in the story. Kieu wanted so much to get married to Kim but was forced into a life of adventure for fifteen years. However, she finally had the opportunity of spending her life with the family members although her dream of getting married to Kim was no more. In the end, Kieu discovers that what one wishes for is not always what is best.
The tale of Kieu is reflective of the thousands of women from Vietnam who go through sexual exploitation in Asia. The overall tale is symbolic of these women who are promised good marriages only to end up as prostitutes and servants. Others are created that they will be offered jobs in factories but only end up in forced sex. Kieu finally returns home and discovers that her dream had been shattered. This was a tragic end for Kieu and symbolic of many tragic incidents that take place in the world every day. It is upon the societal members to make a difference in the lives of these suffering women.
Khanh, U. “The Moon In Vietnamese Cultural Life As Reflected Through the ‘Tale of Kieu‘.” n.d. 2011.
Vietnam Culture. “Vietnamese Language – a Long History.” 2006.