-- Best Essays --
The Tale of Kieu:
Friendship, Love, and the
by Megumi S.
Friendship, Love, and
In many cultures, there are diverse legends and myths of
the moon. Some
people regard the moon as God and some people believe
that the moon brings
good fortune. Especially in many Asian countries, it is
an ancient custom to celebrate the harvest in autumn and
enjoy great food, fresh and savory, while watching the
moon. Today the autumn festival becomes more a good
excuse for people to escape from their busy lives or to
get together with their friends than for an appreciation
of a prosperous harvest. In my country, Japan, we have a
special day called Jyugo-ya, which means the fifteenth
night, and in which people celebrate the wealth and rich
harvest of the year. On the fifteenth day of the harvest
month, people prepare a variety of seasonal foods, like
rice dumplings, persimmons, and chestnuts. They offer
pampas grass, and watch the moon. Therefore, I believe
that the moon has different cultural meanings for people
in different countries. In the classic Vietnamese poem
"The Tale of Kieu," the author, Nguyen Du
successfully portrays some of the qualities that are
valued in Vietnamese society by using an image of
nature, the moon, throughout the story. I say this
because Du incorporates the important essences, such as
beauty, purity, and love, with the image of the moon
into the dramatic events. Particularly, love is the most
remarkable quality in the story. Du describes three
kinds of love, the love between friends, platonic love,
and romantic love using different aspects of the moon to
enhance each scene brilliantly.
I believe that Du uses the moon to represent that love
between friends is precious. A beautiful friendship is
built between the main character, Kieu, and a Buddhist
nun, Giac Duyen. Giac teaches Kieu the principles of
being a nun, and eventually, they become good friends.
Kieu regards Giac Duyen as a friend one meets "once
in a thousand years" (Du, line 2399). After five
years of separation, Kieu escapes from Lord Ho and tries
to commit suicide. As the fortuneteller, Tam Hop,
predicts, Giac Duyen reunites with Kieu by rescuing her
at the Ch'ien-t'ang shore. The friends' reunion makes
"their mutual joy burst forth a hundred ways"
(Du, line 2731) and strengthens their bond. "The
two now shared one roof -the moon and wind cooled faces,
while plain greens and salt cleansed hearts" (Du,
line 2733-34). The moon here shows the passing of time.
To build a strong relationship, time is necessary. Kieu
and Giac Duyen spend a lot of time together while the
moon rises and sets. They build strong trust and support
gradually, and their friendship becomes
"sisterly love" (Khanh, 5).
Du uses moon imagery to indicates that platonic love is
priceless. Kieu and her first love, Kim, reunite after
fifteen years of physical separation. They still love
each other and "still shines the same old moon both
once swore by" (Du, line 3074). Their love for each
other still exists and sparkles like the same moon that
they used to see together. Because she is no longer a
virgin, she proposes that they should be just friends,
not to be a husband and a wife. When Kim objects to
Kieu's idea and offers a new relationship-platonic love,
"the waning moon shines more than at its full"
(Du, line 3124). The symbol of pure love, the moon,
starts growing and gleams as if it celebrates the
establishment of a new relationship. Even though they
don't have any sexual relationship, their lives are
passionate love for each other. Their true love burns
and expands, like the gigantic moon in the tremendous
space, in their delightful lives together without
Although Kieu refuses to get married with Kim in the
beginning, Kim's honest
and generous love for Kieu wins her heart and results in
their marriage. "To fall in love, to part, to
reunite- both felt mixed grief and joy as rose the
moon" (Du, line 3140). Like the motion of the moon,
they encounter happiness and sadness in their past.
Their ardent love causes happy life like the moon waxes,
and distant love causes unhappy life as the moon wanes.
"Now they sipped wine, now played a game of chess,
admiring flowers, waiting for the moon" (Du, line
3223). The moon here symbolizes the love in a
comfortable and joyful life. In spite of their prolonged
separation, their lasting love grows bigger and bigger,
again, like the moon waxing. And, their hearts are full
of love, like a full moon. Their constant love brings
them a strong tie deep inside. Obviously, genuine love
is so indestructible and powerful that it makes it
possible to overcome their miserable past time.
Du also uses the moon to show the strength of romantic
love. On the day Kieu encounters Kim for the first time,
her newborn love is symbolized by the moon,
"outside the window, squinting, peeped the
moon" (Du, line 173). "Alone, in silence, she
beheld the moon, her heart a raveled coil of hopes and
fears" (Du, line 177-78). The moon reflects her
virgin love with mixed feelings, the hope of expectation
and fear of disappointment. And, Kieu's new love for Kim
makes her wonder if it is fate that has brought them
together. Often I feel the same way as Kieu when I meet
a new person; I ask why did I meet this person among the
billions of people in the world? I think to fall in love
with someone makes life more valuable. After I fell in
love, I felt more liveliness and satisfaction about my
life and myself, and I considered the meanings of my
life and existence.
Eventually, Kieu and Kim fall in love deeply with each
other. When Kieu visits Kim's place, knowing "
traditionally, seeing a man at night in his own
apartment [is] a very shameful thing for a girl to
do" (Khanh, 3), "the moon through branches
cast shapes bright or dark" (Du, line 434) and
shines a path to make it easy for her to reach his
apartment. While "the stark bright moon was gazing
from the skies" (Du, line 449), they swear an oath
of their unceasing love for each other. It seems like
the moon always watches Kieu intently and supports her
love, as if the moon is trying to share the same feeling
with her. As we know, the moon never wavers. The moon
appears and rotates regularly for millions of years.
Therefore, by presenting the moon, Du indicates the
importance of constant love, like the love between Kieu
and Kim. Their love is not like fireworks, flaring up in
the beginning and burning out in the end. Their
profoundly enormous love for each other is symbolized by
the moon, steady and faithful; no one can destroy its
Throughout the story, the author, Nguyen Du, describes
three kinds of love, the love between friends, platonic
love, and romantic love using different appearances of
the moon to intensify each scene magnificently. In
of Kieu," Du is able to describe the most crucial
quality, love, in the story. Since "The tale of
Kieu" was written, almost two centuries have
passed. As time goes by, many things have changed in the
world. Nevertheless, Du's concept of love is still true
and reasonable. Like the same old moon that still
appears, constant love is extremely valuable and
precious. I believe that devoted love will be a precious
force as long as there is a moon.
Du, Nguyen. The Tale of Kieu. Trans. Huynh Sanh Thong.
Yale University, 1983.
"The Moon in
Vietnamese Cultural Life as Reflected through The Tale
LUA VIET MAGAZINE (1997). 24 Jun. 1999.
Republic of China Government Information Office.
Commemorative Holidays in Taiwan. 1996.
Swensson, John K. "The Tale of Kieu."