The Tale of Kieu is a Vietnamese epic poem written by Nguyen Du in the early 19th century. The work has become a crucial part of Vietnamese literature, with many people believing that it holds great significance to the development of Vietnamese arts and poetry. The story is focused on the misfortunes of a beautiful young woman named Thuy Kieu Vuong. During the span of the story, she meets many secondary characters, each of them contributing to her fate in one way or another. Giac Duyen is one of the kindest characters depicted in the poem, and she helps Kieu during difficult times.
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Giac Duyen is the chief nun of a Buddist Temple. Giac Duyen meets Kieu when the young woman runs away from the home where she was forced to work as a slave. She is a very compassionate person, which is evident from her description. Nguyen Du introduces her as a kind-hearted and generous character right away: “Seeing the girl in her brown Buddhist garment,/ Giac Duyen, the chief nun, at once felt compassion” (2039-2040). She also appears to be considerate of Kieu, as she asks about her origin with caution and offers to help Kieu by providing shelter, food, and security (Du 2053-2056). Giac Duyen’s compassion is further explored through her later relationship with Kieu. Upon hearing that the young woman possesses stolen property, she waits to hear her full story and expresses genuine fear for Kieu’s life and well-being: “I just fear of unexpected happenings,/ That’ll drive you into regretful misfortune!” (Du 2077-2078). She connects Kieu with Madam Bạc, believing that it would be safer for her there. Although it turns out that Madam Bạc runs a brothel, it appears that Giac Duyen was unaware of this, and she genuinely wanted to help Kieu.
Another important aspect of Giac Nuyen’s character is her spirituality. Apart from her religious values, she also believes in a prophecy about Kieu’s fate. She tells Kieu about it when they part for the first time: “Countless attachments still bind us together,/ Our chance for union still exists, why to worry?” (2411-2412). Upon her next meeting with the prophetess, she asks about Kieu’s fate, which shows that she is true to her promise and cares about Kieu and her happiness. From this prophecy, Giac Duyen finds out about Kieu’s future misfortunes and that she will throw herself into a river (Du 2690-2694). She believes in it immediately, thus confirming her spiritual nature. It is also important to note that the friendship between two women is in itself spiritual. Throughout the work, Du highlights that Giac Duyen is an integral part of Kieu’s fate, “her destined friend” (3007). This suggests that, although Giac Duyen’s kindness and compassion are crucial to the relationship, her role in Kieu’s life is that of a savior.
Giac Duyen’s role and her kind heart are also shown during her second meeting with Kieu when she saves the young woman from drowning. Following the advice of the prophetess, Giac Duyen rushes to Kieu’s aid, paying fishermen to build boats so that they could rescue her from the river. Here, Du takes time to highlight Giac Duyen’s motives, highlighting her devotion to her friend and her kind nature: “With her heart of sacrifice and devotion,/ Soon their meeting would be arranged by heaven” (2701-2702). After saving Kieu from drowning, Giac Duyen assures her that the misfortunes will be temporary and that she still has a chance at a good life, which helps Kieu to overcome desperation.
Overall, Giac Duyen plays the role of Kieu’s friend and savior, becoming one of the few people in the poem that Kieu can trust and who shows genuine concern for her fate. It is also suggested that the friendship between the two women was pre-determined and that they both play important roles in one another’s fate. At the end of the poem, Giac Duyen continues her religious service, and it is assumed that she and Kieu will remain close friends in the future.
Du, Nguyen. The Tale of Kieu. Translated by Phan Huy, 2013. WordPress, Web.