The Morality of Vengeance
“Behold, on wrong Swift vengeance waits…” (World of Quotes, Homer, Odyssey 8). This longing for vengeance after being wronged which is described in this quote was very present in The Tale of Kieu, by Nguyen Du. In this poem, Du marvelously developed the theme of vengeance through the characterization of Miss Hoan, a woman who was scorned by herdeceitful husband. As one read the poem and was introduced to Miss Hoan, one was taken deep within her heart and beyond what the characters that surrounded and judged her could observe. Even though they were closer to her in proximity, one as a reader had the advantage of seeing her in a more transparent way. The reader could hear her thoughts and feel the anger and pain that her husband’s escapadeswere causing her. Who was the real Miss Hoan? Was she merely a strong-willed, dominant wife who did nothing but plan evil against her “blameless” husband? I do not believe so. The thirst for vengeance is not born out nowhere. Most humans look to quench that type of thirst only after falling victims to unwarranted events. While vengeance is not necessarily regarded as a virtuous quality, it is atrait that has been present in our human existence since the beginning of time and I believe it will continue to be with us until the end of times. Vengeance has been developed as a theme in many key pieces of literature from Homer’s Iliad to Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Cumming Study Guide, 2010), and it has served a specific purpose in each. In The Tale of Kieu, Miss Hoan unleashed her vengeance in anattempt to defend her honor and punish those who she felt had dared to trample on it. Whether she was justified to unleash her vengeance to the degree that she did, and against the people she did, is in the eye of the beholder.
Miss Hoan’s husband gave her plenty of reasons to feel disrespected and dishonored. Du described how her husband, Thuc Ky Tham, was accustomed to visiting brothels duringhis business trips. Ky Tham was a patron of the brothel where Kieu was residing and “Kieu’s fame as queen of beauty had reached him” (Du 67). He desired Kieu, and had to have her. It was not long before the news reached Miss Hoan’s ears. Perhaps, if Ky Tham’s relationship with Kieu had remained that of a prostitute who he sometimes frequented, Miss Hoan’s ire would not have been provoked. However,it was clear that this was not the case with Ky Tham and Kieu. What Ky Tham felt for Kieu had grown; it had become more than lust for a beautiful prostitute. He was considering a more serious relationship with Kieu and expressed his feelings to Kieu very clearly, “Since we have known each other, my heart has nursed for you a steadfast love” (69). Ky Tham did not consider his wife in any of hisactions. He had been away from her for more than half a year and did not seem to miss her one bit. I believe that, that on its own would be enough reason for any woman to feel betrayed and dishonored by her husband.
Kieu was not as naïve as Ky Tham regarding the obstacles that they needed to take care of if they were to pursue the relationship that he was proposing. Knowing that Ky Tham wasmarried, Kieu understood how, if not done right, their relationship would dishonor Ky Tham’s wife and explained, “Till now the marriage bond has tied you two…am I to drain your fond affection from your spouse?” (71). She understood, probably much better than Ky Tham, that not only his wife’s fury, but also judgment from heaven would fall upon them unless they took a different approach to theirrelationship to make it legal and fair. She said to him, “If with firm hand you hold the helm and steer you may protect me…see that there’s no loose end and I’ll obey” (71), meaning that she would accept to marry him if he took care of business. He needed to make things straight with his wife so there would be no wrongdoing from their part. Ky Tham promised Kieu that he would take care of these matters...