“Heungboo and Nolboo”: Korean Folktale


Heungboo and Nolboo is an interesting Korean folktale written in the Joseon Dynasty. The storyline focuses on greed and the fruits of kindness through two brothers born and raised in a wealthy family. Even though the book’s author is unknown, the Korean story is a popular bedtime narration for children. The themes incorporated in Heungboo and Nolboo report the events in the Korean culture about 200 years ago. The use of figurative language aided the folktale author in describing the personality traits between the protagonist and the antagonist in the Korean short story. On the one hand, Heungboo was a very generous, empathetic, and kind person, while on the other hand, Nolboo was cold-hearted and selfish. The fictional narration in Heungboo and Nolboo encourages its readers that it is possible to overcome the oppressions despite the oppression of the poor. Without question, in every time era, there was a suppression toward minority groups by limiting their resources, their opportunities and rich people are still taking advantage of poor people nowadays, but if you try your best, it is possible to overcome the suppression.


Simile has continuously been used in the Korean folktale to illustrate the impacts of class systems in the community in which the story is set. According to Kyoonseop (21), rich people often prosecute poor people by limiting their little resources. The unknown author describes Heungboo’s traits and compares them with Nolboo’s characteristics through simile. “…Heungboo did not complain about his fate of poverty” (Park and Kyung 9). The unknown voice in Heungboo and Nolboo familiarized his audience with the class system factor in ancient Korean society. According to the descriptions, the elder brother was too selfish than his younger sibling.

Furthermore, simile has been used in the narration to make descriptions vivid in the story of the Heungboo and Nolboo. Comparing certain subjects to known events within narrations creates concrete imageries among readers. Similarly, the writer of Heungboo and Nolboo incorporated the element in visualizing Nolboo’s greed and eventual fallout to poverty. As a firstborn, the character failed to honor his father’s will; Nolboo betrayed his brother by taking all the wealth left for the family for his gains. According to the storyline, Heungboo neither fought nor complained about his brother’s actions (Kyoonseop 16). Instead, he accepted his condition and worked hard toward improving his status. “The swallow brought Nolboo a gourd seed…” (Park and Kyung 14). The phrase compares the upgrade material (gourd seed) to Nolboo’s poor state. The character fell into poverty just like the shadows of the gourd seeds fall off from the trees. Nolboo’s choices to frustrate his brother and the family collapsed with his attempt to acquire Heungboo’s blessings.

Moreover, simile has been used in the Heungboo and Nolboo to evoke readers’ emotions and memory about the Korean most told children’s story. Kyoonseop (19) highlighted selfishness as the story’s moral lesson; creating a strong memory in the audience of the Korean folktale demanded the use of numerous similes. The author crafted the theme of greed as a primary pillar to realizing a strong memory. “Heungboo planted a seed germinated like a gemstone inside” (Park and Kyung 21). The simile compels readers to develop a strong memory of the seed’s importance to the earlier suppressed family. Gemstones are valuable minerals in the modern world settings; extracting such mines from the soil is rare, but miners gain so much money from its sale when it occurs. Similarly, the phrase means a lot to readers who see the opportunity as a life-changing event for the most humble and appealing characters in Heungboo and Nolboo.


Literature texts incorporate hyperboles as a figurative language in creating stories for various impacts. For example, Heungboo and Nolboo storytellers adopted the hyperbole function to add amusing effects to the narrations. Hyperboles should not be taken literally; however, English literature functions help students dramatize the overall text. The narrator introduces a “story within the story” at some point to elaborate on the source of Heungboo’s wealth. Although the character gained wealth from a humble beginning, the story does not add up literally. Nevertheless, hyperbole makes it interesting for readers to connect the flow of events. “After treating the broken leg of the Swallow, the family came back and gifted Heungboo with a seed” (Park and Kyung 20). The hyperbole here has been used to examine Heungboo’s source of wealth; the figurative language helps the narrator explain the character’s journey through riches. Figurative language shows the readers how to return the favor to those who help during hard times.

The Swallow’s action to thank Heungboo for having nursed his broken legs was used hyperbolically to illustrate the connections between justice and goodwill. Heungboo became rich based on his caring attribute; the writer of the Korean story incorporated human characters within the Swallow family to elaborate on common sense. Human beings are expected to do good to others to attain blessings; likewise, the writer of the story sed hyperbole to present something common but in an intense manner (Trim 12). Charity is common among Koreans, and it is almost a norm to help the needy based on the community’s culture. The author of Heungboo and Nolboo was compelled to use hyperboles to meet the cultural demands and expectations of the Koreans.

Heungboo was empathetic to the people, and he used his resources to help everyone in society. “Rumors reached Nolboo about his brother’s wealth, Heungboo selflessly supported his family from the gemstone sale” (Park and Kyung 11). Normally, wealthy people are thrifty; they do not spend money carelessly and aimlessly to make the community proud. Kyoonseop (22) challenges, Heungboo’s personality of being extravagant; in his opinion, the character is boastful, and he does not look into the future. However, to make the audience happy and connected to the narration, the unknown author utilizes hyperboles to achieve standard literature demands on the use of figurative languages. In addition, the use of hyperboles in the Heungboo and Nolboo was significant in elaborating the dangers that arise with disobedience and greed. Unlike Heungboo’s seed, Nolboo’s plantation caused floods, curses, and poverty. In real-world settings, a seedling cannot cause flooding or invite an individual’s enemies to collect their debts; however, the narration has the freedom to give the seeds such traits as a courtesy of hyperbole and figurative language.


Literature gives authors the freedom to attribute human characteristics and personal nature to non-human creatures. The human form representations help readers forge deeper insights into the narrations. For example, the author of the Korean story used personification to connect readers in understanding the relationships between the Swallow, Heungboo, and Nolboo. The differences in the accommodative behaviors of the brothers were realized through a bird. The Swallow was at risk of being hunted down by a snake. On the one hand, Heungboo’s support was genuine, while on the other hand, Nolboo’s mission to fix the Swallow’s broken limb was falsified. The writer’s attribute states that the Swallow brought a curse and eternal poverty to Nolboo is something a bird cannot do in reality. Birds are not that strong to carry seedlings worth millions of shillings. However, relating such non-human creatures to the roles and responsibilities of human beings creates instantly relatable qualities for readers. The fall of Nolboo was tied to his role in intentionally breaking the leg of the Swallow.

Furthermore, personification helps literature writers to illustrate the settings of a story. Although the antagonist in the story is working so hard to bring down Heungboo, he does not succeed based on the ability of the narrator to use personification in the setting of the storyline. After misusing the ill-gotten wealth, Nolboo became jealous of his younger brother, who left the family inheritance for peaceful coexistence. On the contrary, Nolboo became stubborn and monitored Heungboo’s sources of wealth to be his equal in the social class ratings. Nevertheless, his quest for wealth through humanity failed, with his effort turning into more curses than a blessing. “The spring that followed the Swallow’s leg’s brokerage, the bird’s family brought a gourd seed to Nolboo” (Park and Kyung 6). In the phrase, the narrator has given the Swallow a human character to accurately describe the concept of punishment in the Korean folk story.

The gourd seed was also issued with particular descriptions and representations that belong to human beings solely. “The gourd seed produced various elements of destructions after being planted on the soil” (Park and Kyung 14). Seeds are planted to provide food for other plants naturally; vegetation can’t produce elements of destruction similar to the cases observed in Heungboo and Nolboo. The story’s settings illustrate that the gourd seeds generated an imp that consumed Nolboo’s children. Personification makes narrations exciting and follow-up on the next events predictable. The gourd saw and its punishments to Nolboo attained the writer’s objective to link the antagonist to the suffrage he caused to himself. The narrator easily achieves the emotional connection of the idea of curses to greed through the use of personification. Children are a significant audience in the Korean folktale; the group learn a lot of information based on the theme settings. Besides, they make conclusions about narrations based on human traits. As a result, personification aligned the population to connect the story’s ideologies to reality.


The figurative language used in the Heungboo and Nolboo impact readers differently. Simile, personification, and hyperbole usage made the narrations more entertaining and educating. Analyzing the antagonist and protagonist roles in the text exposes the moral lessons learned from the Korean folktale. Heungboo and Nolboo teach their audiences that good deed brings luck and wealth. Secondly, the story also educates children about the repercussions of greed and the fruits of being kind. Finally, the book teaches children that all the bad things that they do to their friends put them in the position of yielding curses. Therefore, the unrecognized author’s story helps its readers create positive relationships with everyone in the community, school, or neighborhood.

Works Cited

Kyoonseop, Park. “The Personality of Heungboo and Nolboo Through the Perspective of Development Education Theory.” The Journal of Saramdaum Education, vol. 12, no.1, 2018, pp. 5-26.

Park, Sung W, and Kyung Hwang. Heungboo and Nolboo. Seoul: Borim Books, 2004. Print, pp. 1-24.

Trim, Richard. “Figurative Creativity in Language Structure. Mapping the Origins of Figurative Language in Comparative Literature, 2021, pp. 11-18.

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""Heungboo and Nolboo": Korean Folktale." StudyStroll, 27 Mar. 2023, studystroll.com/heungboo-and-nolboo-korean-folktale/.

1. StudyStroll. ""Heungboo and Nolboo": Korean Folktale." March 27, 2023. https://studystroll.com/heungboo-and-nolboo-korean-folktale/.


StudyStroll. ""Heungboo and Nolboo": Korean Folktale." March 27, 2023. https://studystroll.com/heungboo-and-nolboo-korean-folktale/.


StudyStroll. 2023. ""Heungboo and Nolboo": Korean Folktale." March 27, 2023. https://studystroll.com/heungboo-and-nolboo-korean-folktale/.


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