LitScope: Sing to The Dawn by Minfong Ho

For all English SPM students in Kelantan, Perak, Terengganu and Penang. An in-depth review of individual chapter synopsis, character traits and themes, its all you need to sharpen your knowledge of this story.

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LitScope: Sing to The Dawn by Minfong Ho|Synopsis|Character traits|Themes

For Malaysian Form 5 Students in Kelantan, Perak, Terengganu and Penang.

Table of Contents

Elements of the Short Story
~Synopsis
Chapter by chapter synopsis
Chapter 1 Synopsis
Chapter 2 Synopsis
Chapter 3 Synopsis
Chapter 4 Synopsis
Chapter 5 Synopsis
Chapter 6 Synopsis
Chapter 7 Synopsis
Chapter 8 Synopsis
Chapter 9 Synopsis
Chapter 10 Synopsis
Chapter 11 Synopsis
Chapter 12 Synopsis
Chapter 13 Synopsis
Character Traits.
Themes
Readers’ Requests [COMING SOON]


Elements of the Short Story

Setting

 Place

  • A small village in Thailand

Time

  • Early 20th century
The Author: Minfong Ho
  • Hails from Rangoon, Burma.
  • An award winning author of literature novels for both children and young adults.
  • Has won Singapore’s most revered arts accolade; The cultural Medallion Award (1997).
  • A retired Straits Times journalist and lecturer at the University of Chiangmai, Thailand.
  • A humanist who depicts her stories based on historical events.
Synopsis

The story of Sing to the Dawn revolves around a 14-year-old Thai girl named Dawan and her struggles to prove her worth in an anti feministic village. After winning a scholarship to further her studies at the city, Dawan faces much oppression from her Father, who forbids her from claiming it. Additionally, she also faces resentment and pressure from her brother to surrender her scholarship to him. However, this only sharpens her resolution to claim her right to a better education at the city.  Soon she gains the support of her mother and grandmother as well as a few others. After long perseverance, her father finally relents and grants her the permission to leave.

Chapter by chapter synopsis below.

Chapter 1

Just after waking up to the chilly, crisp morning air, Dawan and her brother creeps out of their humble abode into the young morning atmosphere. Dashing past Dawan, Kwai motions for his sister to follow as he disappears behind a few leafy trees. Dawan chases after him to their usual spot; A hidden river.

Not long after, she joins her brother, who was sitting solemnly on a bridge alone. Inspired by the new day ahead, she leans back on her palms and  sings:

“Misty morning

mist is lifting,

melody of trees

slowly sifting

through the gold-green branches.

Dappled morning

sun is flying,

breaths of breezes

rising, dying,

brushing over the earth’s brown skin.

Happy morning

my heart is singing,

arms spread wide

the dawn is bringing

its sunglow to this land, my home.”

Hearing sounds of the other villagers waking, Kwai gets up and urges Dawan to do the same to return home for breakfast before leaving for school together. Dawan however, seemed bemused. Understandingly, Kwai sits back down beside her. He asks if his sister is nervous for their teacher’s announcement for the government scholarship’s winner later.

After a while, she asks whether Kwai would go if he wins the scholarship.

Kwai jokingly asks if anyone could turn down free education. But despite his ease, Dawan felt his excitement. After all, Kwai was expected to win that scholarship.

Kwai continues to talk about his dreams to visit the city’s huge markets and stunning divine temples.

Dawan laughs and reminds him to not dismay their teacher’s noble hopes for Kwai’s future.

Changing his verbal stance, Kwai next talks about coming back, after his studies at the city schools, to help teach his father to raise new crops, introduce better fertilisers, start a village hospital and even advise other villagers on how to avoid being cheated by the tax collector, before being interrupted by Dawan, at the mention of the tax collector. They both continued to discuss before agreeing that that the taxes imposed onto their father are unjustified. Dawan questions the Landlord’s right to take away their family’s rice despite not toiling for it.

Kwai argues that Dawan too stands a chance at winning the scholarship as she works harder than him and consistently excels in tests. With her fists clenched tight, she coldly replies, “I’m a girl, Kwai”.

 

Chapter 2

With silent anticipation, the entire class waits for the teacher to announce for the chosen one. Nonetheless, the teacher instead begins talking about the heavy rice stacks beneath each student’s home. He continues to prompt them to question the injustice of their society’s system; the reason to why they must pay their landlords high rentals. One of the student’s answers that their farm lands are owned by the landlord. Dawan then queries her teacher of their landlord’s right to own their land. He then acknowledged her by writing her question on the board and listing three words beneath: “Labour,” Need,” and “Inheritance,”

However, an ensuing discussion about the landlord’s ownership of their land, despite his insufficient labour under the blazing sun, abundant family wealth and lineage’s questionable inheritance of the land, soon left all three of the words crossed out. This then propels the next question by Kwai about the fairness of their village’s current situation.

A majority of the class conceded that there should be change. Some suggest a coup before dividing and sharing the land equally.  But then, the areas divided would not be proportionate to every families’ means to work on it.

Kwai suggests for all the buffalos and tools be put in the village center for everyone in need, to freely use them. With that, everyone will be able to take turns on the usage of that equipment and that each family’s manpower would no longer be an issue as the animals and tools can be productively used.

The discussion  abruptly stops at the arrival of the headmaster. Monotonously, the teacher switches to a geography lesson. After the headmaster left, the teacher then proceeds to announcing the results of the government scholarship. Dawan has won the scholarship!

 

Chapter 3

Kwai, shocked and disbelieving, retreats silently off on his own. Feeling sorry for Kwai, Dawan too left for home, thinking that he would be there. However, he wasn’t. Instead, she finds her father grumpier, as their sacks of rice have just been hauled away by the tax collectors. When Dawan delivers the good news of her achievement, her father only snaps and accuses her of robbing her brother’s chance, before throwing a temper and stalking off. Only Dawan’s grandmother cared to congratulate her. Next, her grandmother comes up with a plan to get Noi, Dawan’s cousin to help persuade and change her father’s mind. Dawan’s mother ends up taking her there.

 

Chapter 4

Noi and her husband, Ghan believes that the city is a barbarous place for a young girl like Dawan to be alone in. Amidst their discussions, an army officer creeps up and steals Ghan away for a ‘talk’ about his pay to avoid being enlisted into the army. Noi and Ghan are struggling to satisfy the officer’s high demands and will be forced deeper into debt. Dawan and her mother finds out that Noi had lied to them about the city’s wonders. Noi later chides Dawan’s childishness and insists for her to give up pursuing change at the city and instead accept and cope with life as it is. Dawan however feels that she will never be able to do so. Alternatively, she craves to grasp a better understanding of how the present system of her society operates to help build a far superior one. Noi refuses to help persuade Dawan’s father out of fear that harm might come upon her cousin, Dawan, if she goes to the city. That however does not shake Dawan’s resolution as she firmly resolves to go see and judge the city for herself. Dawan and her mother leaves Noi and her family soon after.

 

Chapter 5

It was twilight by the time Dawan and her mother were about to reach home. Noticing and recognising a small and lithe figure darting behind them, she stops to wait for Kwai. Their mother on the other hand chose to proceed home to prepare dinner.

Kwai was unhappy with the fact that Dawan had sought help from Noi to change their father’s mind. He later reveals that he still has a chance of claiming the scholarship for himself for he had in fact achieved second place, right behind Dawan. He could only go if, his sister rejects the scholarship offer to make way for him.

Despite that, Dawan remains adamant with her decision to claim the scholarship that allows her access to an education that her father refuses to even give her, unlike Kwai, whom their father will agree to send off with unconditional support. Dawan tries to persuade Kwai to win the next scholarship offer instead. Kwai however interjects that winning the scholarship is just another responsibility that Dawan would be incapable of shouldering. He further elaborates that Dawan could never fight, voice out her opinions loudly or lead her people in times of crisis, due to the simple fact that she is just a mere girl. Deep anger and frustration aroused in the depths of Dawan’s heart as she bitterly challenges Kwai’s statement. At that moment, a rift is cast in their relationship.

Softening, Kwai wonders aloud; if it was possible for each of them to take turns if they could both go; by taking turns. Calming down, Dawan jokes at the absurdity of the idea. At that instant, any hostility between them melted away.

As they neared home, Kwai agrees to not tell their father about his results and asked for more time to reconsider his decision. No promises are made about his future actions however.

 

Chapter 6

The air was thick with heavy silence during dinner. To soften father’s mood, mother had added some fishballs to the vegetable soup. Her efforts however ends in vain when she is immediately silenced by her husband, after bringing up the topic of her daughter’s education.

After dinner, Dawan rallies her courage to question her father of his reluctance to let her to claim her entitlement to the scholarship. Father retorts by demanding to know of Dawan’s reason to continue studying, as he believes that further education will only be wasted on a daughter. In her state of dejection, Dawan catches a small smile from Kwai.

Refusing to meet her pleading gaze, he abruptly asks if their father would approve of him going, if he had won the scholarship.

Father wistfully replies that Kwai’s case would be different. He believes that educating his son would be more reasonable; as sons are more obliged to help their fathers whilst the daughters tend to their households. But then reality hits, and father could only sigh  in disappointment with Kwai. Silently, Kwai leaves the house.

Immediately after finishing up with the dishes, Dawan sprints off to look for Kwai. Under the warm velvet sky, she starts to question her right to claim the scholarship for herself, and whether it’s right to stand in her brother’s way. She ponders about her expected fate; to continue waiting on her future family’s needs and be forever tied down to her family duties. What good would learning do for her?

“Nothing,”  the stars whispered coldly.

“Everything!” their reflections accosted.

Dawan starts wondering to whom she can turn to for help; now that her own flesh and blood has turned against her.

Under the surreal moonlight, she hears a soft splash. If there’s anyone her father deeply respects, it is the old monk of the village temple. Dawan’s dreams and hopes of studying at the city rekindles.

 

Chapter 7

Before visiting the temple, Dawan makes a detour to the marketplace to buy a tribute for the old monk; a lotus bud. There, she meets a young peddler named Bao, who is surrounded by sparrows trapped in dainty wooden cages and a white pail full of white lotus buds. Bao insists that Dawan take the lotus bud for free despite her willingness to pay. Bao then argues that she can’t sell something that’s not of her creation. After all, it was the mud that supported the roots, water that flowed life into it and the sun that shined beauty onto it.

Dawan instantly took a liking to Bao’s defiance and enthusiasm. She decides to confide her reason of acquiring the lotus bud. Bao admires Dawan’s resolution to continue her education and Dawan feeds her growing interest with the storybooks, sums and ideas that she learnt at school. Bao grumbles that her brother, Vichai, Dawan’s classmate, doesn’t think so highly of school as Dawan does.

Soon, Bao discovers that Dawan had won the scholarship and compliments her intellect and brilliance at winning the scholarship. Dawan replies that their differences are caused by the contrast of chances presented to them. She explains that it was Kwai who had helped persuade their father into letting her study years ago. Bao wishes that her brother would do the same for her. She further describes him as being self conceited to the extend of fighting with her to get what he wants. Dawan snorts and tells Bao that Kwai had placed second in the exam and is most likely to tell their father. Dawan would then be forced to stand down for her brother. Hence, Dawan’s reason to visit the head abbot.

Bao warns Dawan about the monks’ abnegation and reluctance to take sides. After thanking Bao, Dawan departs for the temple with a promise to return and tell Bao about the outcome of her meeting with the monk later.

 

Chapter 8

Dawan waits in an empty courtyard for the head abbot to finish his duties The silent desolation of the courtyard seems to echo an ending to another phase of a life. She sighs softly.

The head monk emerges from behind her. After a small talk, he begins to recognise her as the girl who had won the scholarship. He is even aware of Kwai’s unfortunate situation of coming in as second. Curiously, he asks Dawan about her troubles of flying off freely to the city despite her cage’s door being already open. Reluctantly, she explains her situation. The monk becomes confused and asks what Dawan wants him to do. Dawan replies patiently that she needs his help to persuade her father in letting her claim the scholarship. The puzzled monk then asks about Dawan’s reason to leave for the city to further her studies when everything she needs is already in the temple.

The monk then explains that everything will inevitably fade away into nothingness and urges Dawan to forget about her materialistic ideals of life to be able to achieve higher truths of spiritual understanding. He gently advises Dawan to be wiser and accept things as they are, for a calmer and less painful life. Indignantly, Dawan replies that she doesn’t need to be wise to understand that its only natural for people in pain, who live outside this sanctuary, to struggle for a change. Sternly, the monk warns her that her efforts would be futile as they would never last.

Frustrated, Dawan cries out that even a slight improvement to their lives now would still be worthwhile her efforts. Even if thousands have tried and failed before her. Softly, the monk tells Dawan that he can’t help her achieve ideals that he doesn’t believe in. He then asks what can a ordinary school girl like her hope to accomplish?

Hurt and angry, Dawan asks if he would help, if it was her brother instead of her, who is struggling under the same harsh circumstances. The monk answers that her brother wouldn’t face the same problems, if he had won first. Without letting the monk finish, Dawan swivels around with her eyes glistening with tears and runs out from the temple’s courtyards. Upon reaching the gates, she turn around to shoot one last seething glare, before leaving the temple.

 

Chapter 9

Once outside, Dawan’s raucous fury dissipates, leaving behind only a silent hollowness. She wonders if there’s any point in hoping and fighting if all this is to end in vain. Defeatedly, she ponders if she should just graciously step down for her brother, once and for all.

Seeing her friend crushed, Bao manœuvres past the scattered baskets of fruit till she reached her. After leading her friend back to her flower stall, she soothingly tells her to brush the monk’s words aside. Glumly, Dawan explains the hopelessness for the situation.

Snorting, Bao suggests for Dawan to believe in her own capabilities of helping herself. Instantly, a flame rekindles inside of Dawan. Bao insists that Dawan should never yield her chance to her brother. Furthermore, she must stand steadfast by her principles in order to become her brother’s equal.

She passes Dawan a caged sparrow that she has been quietly eyeing for some time before urging her to open it’s door. Carefully, Dawan did so.

For a while, the small sparrow inside studied the cage’s door. Bao then softly nudges the bird. Finally aware that it is truly free, with a single-minded grace, it soars off to the endless cerulean sky. Only then, did Dawan understood Bao’s intentions.

Suddenly, she felt her friend stiffen as a dark physique stalks towards them. Urgently, Bao warns Dawan to immediately leave as her brother would be enraged at the fact that she couldn’t pay for the bird. Reluctantly, she darts away before hiding behind a stall hung heavy with baskets.

Meanwhile, Vichai interrogates his sister’s actions of freeing the sparrows he had caught, without charge. He starts shouting menacingly at her. Defiantly, Bao threatens to one day free the whole flock. Violently, he slaps Bao, who unflinchingly begins to taunt him by opening as many cage-doors as she could. However, she could only savour a split-second of triumph before receiving a harsh blow to her shoulder. Yet, she continued wrenching the cage doors open; like her very life depended on it.

Just then, Kwai dashes forward, before grappling to restrain Vichai. Indifferent to the scuffle before her, sits Bao; caressing a lifeless sparrow. She tries to put its awkward joints back together as she whispers remorsefully that she had murdered it. Beaten, Vichai tramps off.

An avalanche of tears streaked Bao’s face as she accused Kwai of falsely helping her after trying to rob his sister’s chance at the scholarship. Furious at Bao’s remarks and just like Vichai before, raises his fists; poised to strike. Hurriedly, Dawan jumps up and grabs his arms while yelling at him to not hit Bao. In the spur of the moment, Kwai callously pushes his sister aside and causes her to lose balance before falling onto the pile of broken birdcages. A sharp splinter slices through her ankle. Yet, she could only sit in daze as rivulets of crimson trickled from her wound, splashing softly into a mud-puddle by her feet.

“Liar,” Dawan softly chants. She then asks him about the times he talked about defending the weak and poor before turning back and wanting to take her only chance away. The gathering crowd only listened hungrily.

It was Noi who finally pushed through the crowd to reach her cousin. Dawan whinges as Noi started cleaning her wound. The crowd soon dismissed. Gently Noi explains to Dawan that this would be the outcome if she tried fighting or getting in the way of men. Faintly but urgently, Dawan replies that Noi wouldn’t understand that Kwai would never hurt her. It starts drizzling as the faint growls of the sky crescendoed. Limping, Dawan leaves with Bao’s umbrella after being ordered by Noi to hurry home.

 

Chapter 10

Despite the vehement downpour, Dawan dreaded the idea of returning home to face the sharp interrogations of her parents about her cut ankle. She also felt a pulsing necessity to sit alone by the calmness of the river. However, she is surprised to see Kwai already sitting on the old bridge. At first, she wanted to avoid confronting him to prevent the pain from aggravating. However, her sisterly sentiments took over as she hobbled over to check on him.

He was disturbed by how easily his principles had soured and confesses that he feels conflicted that the only way to continue furthering his studies to help other people, is by robbing his own sister’s chance to study. Stubbornly, he refuses to follow Dawan out of the rain to weigh his thoughts out. Dawan vaguely seemed to understand her brother’s wish to remain amidst a thunderstorm while he struggles to make a grim choice. Sighing, she thrusts the umbrella into Kwai’s hands before proceeding home without one.

Touched by his sister’s struggles to shelter him from the raging monsoon despite her pain, he scrambled up. His verdict has been made. Holding the umbrella high above his head, he races after his sister to share the umbrella with her for the rest of their way home.

 

Chapter 11

Slowing down as he reached his shocked sister, he explains that only a fool would remain out in a storm to think. As they huddled close together to protect themselves from the slashing rain, suddenly, Dawan felt Kwai stiffening by her side. It was their father, leading the buffalo home. They both felt instantly uneasy at the sight of their father seeming furious at the fact that Kwai had completely forgotten about his responsibility to bring the buffalo out from the storm. With Kwai groaning softly, both of them slowly approached their father.

Shouting over the loud howls of the wind, their father demanded to know Kwai’s reason for hiding the truth about his results. At the sight of their father’s raised palm, the siblings cowered under the umbrella, hoping for its protection. However, the blow only landed on the backside of the buffalo. Startled, the buffalo plodded off into the forest. Despite being ordered to go after it,  Kwai defiantly held his stance while gripping the umbrella handle tightly. Turning away from his children, the lean pheasant strode off after the buffalo himself; with legs savagely kicking through the puddles.

Together, the siblings then plodded their way back home. Upon reaching, the rain had subsided. Their grandmother, with eyes more curious than disapproving, asks about their actions that had caused their father’s fierce mood. Just then, they heard a loud gruff voice bellowing for them. It is their father.

Kwai manages to calmed his father down. Soon, Dawan realizes that her father is truly baffled at her ability to place in as first in the village during the examinations. Their father then states that, though he doesn’t have the right to stop Dawan from going, he certainly has the power to do so.

For the first time since entering the room, Dawan finally stands up to her father to not abuse his power. Their father bellowed and shouted at her to stay out of the discussion. Quivering, yet filled with conviction, Dawan challenges of her reason to stay out of it when it concerns her too.

Quietly, Kwai declares that if Dawan is not permitted to go, then neither would he go. Instead, he will choose to pass the scholarship to their classmate; an outsider of the family. Appalled, their father asks Kwai if he was sure of his statement. Kwai defiantly answers that he does not want his sister to sacrifice her opportunity for him.

Directing his next question at Dawan, their father asks for her perspective on this. Looking squarely in her father’s eyes, she asks for her father to give equal treatment towards her as he gives to Kwai. Yet, their father continues to demand why she should be given this chance. To him, Dawan is only a powerless girl who can achieve nothing, even with higher education.

“Father stop it!” Dawan screamed above the noise of her father’s shouts.

Shakily, she continues that she would be incapable of achieving anything if she is never given the chance to begin with. Urgently with sincerity, she asks that her father shares her dreams, just like how he shares his son’s. She begs for him to set her free.

Her father finally asks if she could accomplish greater things for them all, the village, for the country, or even the world. Heart pounding against her chest, Dawan answers that she could certainly try. With that, her father stood up and despite being a little bit, smiled reluctantly at her, giving her, his final blessing.

Happily, Dawan smiled widely as she turned to hug her brother. Only then, did she realise a small hint of sadness in his eyes. Suddenly, the exhilaration she felt earlier started to choke in her throat. But, she could find nothing to say to him. Sadly, she questions to herself, the reason of ones joy based on another’s sorrow. Why can’t they both advance together? She could only silently watch has Kwai hid his tears.

 

Chapter 12

Once again, a new dawn has arrived. Despite there being a special glow to this morning, a faint hint of sadness lingered in the air. Quietly, so that she doesn’t wake the others, she glances over at Kwai’s bedding. He was gone. Just like he had been for the past few days.

Darting through the rutted path to the river, Dawan spots fresh footprints on the muddy path before her. Not daring to hope, she hurried the rest of the way. Sure enough, she spots Kwai, sullenly throwing pebbles into the river. He was cursing the stones, saying that they always will sink, no matter how you throw them.

Dawan gently thanks him for allowing her this chance to claim the scholarship. Kwai, throws another pebble before asking for her reason to leave. Though his voice was hostile, Dawan knew that it was a plea. Again, he asks of it would be worth it when she’d end up like their mother. Angrily Dawan retorts that it would be the same if he goes. Why should Kwai go if he were to remain a pheasant like their father?

Softly she explains that she is equally confused and nervous and asks for Kwai to happy for her, now that she can change the injustice of their society. Sadly, Kwai explains that things will never be the same again. Dawan would be gone. Giving up on the stones, he turns to the lotus bud and started restlessly plucking off its petals. Horrified, Dawan begs him to stop. Sorrowfully, she confides that she’ll miss the times they’ve spent together and begs for him to continue singing her morning song for her because, she will never sing it anywhere else.

Her brother, with face streaked with tears, disappears off into the vast paddy fields. Dawan wonders how will she be able to cope without the company of her close ones. Out of kinship for the torn lotus bud, she picks up the fallen petals and sprinkles them onto the water’s surface. Dawan wishes that Kwai wouldn’t be sad and see that these petals won’t sink.

 

Chapter 13

Many people had gathered in front of Dawan’s house that morning to see her off. Cringing at the sudden large number of visitors, Dawan shrinks into the shadows.

Gently, her grandmother coaxes her to calm down and take her time before meeting the crowd. Tossing the torn lotus bud aside, she hurriedly begins to dress. A bubbling set of nervousness rose to her throat at the rumbling sound of the bus. Just then, the old lady calls her over and gives her a motivational speech; to face the world with clear boldness. Dawan sobbed, and as she did so, begged her grandmother to let her cry this once, before she never cries again. Patiently, the older woman stood by her side.

After a while. she carefully picked up the abandoned lotus bud before placing it into a glass jar, filled with fresh rain water, and handing it over to Dawan. Grandmother explains to Dawan that she, Dawan, is similar to the lotus bud; small on the outside. But given the right amount of water and sunshine, it will slowly unfold just like Dawan would.

Grandmother then reminds her that without change, she could never blossom and asks that she thinks of this as a another transition in life. With that she lightly pushes Dawan out to embark on her next journey. On the way to the bus, Dawan bumps into her father who tells her that Kwai is away, sitting as calmly as a water buffalo on the old bridge. Dejected, she proceeds to board the bus. The bus then leaves.

As the river now comes into view, all of a sudden, Dawan hears a familiar tune, carried by the gentle breeze. Kwai was there, standing on the old bridge, with arms outstretched; as if meant to embrace. Laughing Dawan joins him in the song. Dawan leaned out and watched as her brother’s waving figure disappeared off into the distance.

Leaning back, she picked up the glass jar and softly sang her last verse. Just then, a ray of sunshine pierced and cradled the lotus. The first few petals have just begun to unfold.

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Character Traits

Main Characters

Dawan

  • Nature loving
    • Observant to the beauty and sounds of nature.
    • Feels free and open in open places that are close to the mother nature’s warmth.
  • Determined
    • Longs to see the city for herself despite her cousin, Noi, trying to scare her with a few harsh comments about the city.
    • Has strong tenacity towards improving the failing systems of her society and attaining enough power to change the injustices in her village.
    • Creatively comes up with ideas to get help from others to persuade her father to grant her the opportunity to achieve her dreams of furthering her studies at the city.
    • Dares to stand up against the village’s head abbot to defend her ideals.
    • Brave enough to face her father at the end, despite him being in the foulest of all his moods to reason with him, regarding her entitlement to at least be given a chance to try.
  • Down to earth
    • Doesn’t boast even after winning first place in the government exams.
    • Insists that her achievements have been because of the chances granted onto her.
  • Fair
    • Refuses to jump straight to conclusions and prefers to give the city a chance after listening to Noi’s one sided story.
    • Reluctant to take the lotus bud from Bao for free, albeit the sheer joy of it, because she believes that Bao’s efforts for plucking the lotus should be taken into account.
  • Passive-aggressive 
    • Quick to forgive Kwai after their fall out about the responsibilities that comes with claiming the scholarship.
    • Feels hollow after feeling extreme rage towards the monk’s aloof behaviour towards helping her claim her rightful entitlement to the government scholarship.
    • Lethargic after the quarrel with Kwai at the marketplace.
    • Wanted to shy away from the possibility of confronting her brother again after the quarrel.
  • Loving sister
    • Caring towards Kwai’s feelings.
    • Runs out after Kwai to comfort him when she could’ve been savouring her classmates shower of praise and compliments upon her success in winning the government scholarship.
    • She dashes out to look for Kwai after their father expressed his disappointments in Kwai being unable to fulfil his expectations and hopes for him despite it being dark outside.
    • Struggled to pass her brother an umbrella to protect him from contracting a cold as he sat pondering alone under the heavy downpour, despite her cut ankle, to avoid the present gap between them from becoming permanent.

Kwai

  • Idealistic
    • Wants to erect a village hospital, for the convenience of his people
  • Chivalrous
    • Aims to defend the weak and poor.
    • Steps in to defend Bao when she was being abused and humiliated publicly by her brother.
  • Playful
    • Plans to see the vast marketplaces, and gorgeous divine temples of the city; Leaving lesser time for him to study.
  •  Principled
    • Has a strong sense of fairness when it comes to the distribution of rights among the women and the others who are powerless to defend themselves.
    • Is deeply shaken when Dawan accuses him of turning his back of his own doctrines by robbing her only chance of ever making a difference.
    • Gives up fighting to take the scholarship from his sister as it is her right to claim it, after seeing her struggling to shield him from the storm, despite being wounded herself.
  • Thoughtful 
    • Empathises with his sister’s worries and acts to cheer her up at the beginning of the story.
    • Thoroughly thinks through his decisions before deciding on his next steps.
    • Reasons  accordingly to his father’s worries when arguing with him.
  • Filial 
    • Aims to study hard to come back and teach his father how to raise new crops and use better fertilisers to increase his family’s crop yield.
  • Loving 
    • Stands up to his father to allow his sister’s to attend school with him, for a proper education.
    • Notices his sister’s anxieties on the day of the announcement for the winner of the scholarship and instantly proceeds to cheer her up.
    • Worries that the responsibility of shouldering the scholarship’s expectations would burden his sister.
    • Tries to clean his sister’s wound after accidentally pushing her onto a pile of broken birdcages.
    • Chooses his sister’s feelings over fighting for the scholarship; his golden opportunity and key to fulfilling dreams to go to the city.

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Minor Characters

Father

  • Grouchy
    • Throws a temper instead of congratulating his own daughter for winning the scholarship and even accuses her of stealing her brother’s chance in getting a good education.
    • Silences his wife when she tries to bring up the topic of their daughter’s education.
  • Prejudiced against women.
    • Believes that girls needn’t be educated as good education would be wasted on them.
    • Initially refuses to allow Dawan to attend school.
  • Rigid and stubborn.
    • Refuses to acknowledge his daughter’s capabilities and brilliance at winning the government scholarship.
    • Forbids her from claiming her entitlement to the scholarship she had earned herself.
    • Believes that girls are incapable of using education to influence and improve the qualities of their surrounding conditions.

Grandmother

  • Sensitive, observant and sharp woman.
    • The first to notice Dawan’s hesitance and discomfort when she arrived home after winning the scholarship.
    • Asks her gently about what’s bothering her.
  • Warm.
    • Congratulates Dawan and encourages her despite Dawan’s father. Her son’s disapproval and oppression.
  • Steadfast in her beliefs.
    • Hold true to her moral conscience.
    • Helped motivate Dawan to rise against their community’s prejudice and oppression against the a girl’s capabilities

Mother

  • Practical.
    • Prefers not to shower false hopes on her daughter when she had won the scholarship.
    • Talks of hope like it’s a disease.
  • Holds suppressed bitterness.
    • Lived in submission towards her husband.
    • Has no say and is not allowed to make decisions for herself or her daughter.
    • Tied down to her duties and is only regarded as a housewife and child bearer by her husband.
  • Temperamental.
    • Can be loving and jovial at one moment and biting or sour in the next.
  • Considerate.
    • Talks in hushed tones despite the urgency of the matter at Noi’s house to avoid waking the baby.
    • Chooses the right moment to leave Noi’s home to not disturb her family’s privacy.

Noi

  • Pessimistic. 
    • Views the world as cruel and ugly.
    • Believes that hoping and fighting for change will only bring about pain and suffering.
    • Returned to the village with her husband, Ghan, to escape the cruelty and hardships she faced at the city.
  • Devoted to her family.
    • Lied to her family about the wonders of the city to protect them from feeling disheartened by its grotesque truths.
    • Tries to keep her family together working hard to prevent Ghan from enlisting into the army.
    • With that, her child will grow without the absence of a fatherly figure.
  • Self dignified.
    • Tries to get a job at the city that allows her to retain some self respect.
    • Refused to acknowledge her employer as her mistress.
  • Kind.
    • Helps clean her cousin, Dawan’s wounds after she fell and hurt her ankle.
    • Gently comforts and advises her cousin for her own protection against the cruelty of the world.

Bao, the flower girl

  • Compassionate.
    • Sympathises with Dawan and comforts her in her lowest moments despite knowing her for less than a day.
    • Frees a caged sparrow to cheer her friend up, despite being aware of the severe consequences that will follow.
    • Remorsefully mourns for the dead bird.
    • Respectfully buries the bird’s broken carcass beneath a few lotus pads.
    • Offered to help support Dawan who was limping home.
  • Non-materialistic.
    • Refuses payment for the lotus buds as she did not create them.
  • Nature loving
    • Holds deep respect for the elements of nature.
    • Wants Dawan to give back to the river what it deserves if she is true grateful for the lotus bud.
    • Frees all the caged birds that have been caught by her brother.
    • Mourns the death
  • Headstrong.
    • Motivates Dawan to remain steadfast in pursuing her future aspirations and to not yield to the people who strongly oppress or stands in her way.
    • Stands up, unflinchingly, to her brother even after she was being publicly humiliated by her brother.
    • Criticises Kwai, even though he had just defended her against her own brother, for robbing Dawan’s only chance at furthering her studies outside of the village.

Head Monk

  • Ascetic
    • Gave up on materialistic goals and possessions for a peaceful and painless life.
    • Accepts things as they are as he believes that true enlightenment comes from not wanting; which includes physical change in life’s circumstances.
    • Urges Dawan to deepen the depths of her faith instead of chasing after temporary aspects of life.

The School Teacher

  • Respected

    • His students obey him without him having to scold or punish them.
    • States that studying is an important way of learning to help others, and not to just cram in hard facts before spewing them out again
    • Guides his students to adopt a wider approach to solving problems especially their village’s system by studying its structures and functions before brainstorming ideas of solutions to fix the flaws of their village’s system with them.
    • Is good friends with the head monk.
  • Unbiased

    • Supports his students regardless of gender or background.
    • He never doubted Dawan when she won the government scholarship and continued to encourage her ideas regardless of her social status.
    • Asks Dawan and Kwai’s father about his decision of sending either one of them to the city, instead of only asking about Kwai.

Other minor characters

Vichai

  • Bao’s brother as well as Dawan and Kwai’s classmate.

School Headmaster

  • Inspects classes to ensure that the school teachers and students are adhering to the school rules.

Mr Phaspras

  • A corrupt army officer that prowls the village; dragging off its young men for the army.

 

Themes

A prejudiced society against the respective roles of gender.

  • In this society, people think less for women and refuse to regard them of having any status higher than a house wife or peddler. This hugely affects the way the daughters of the village are being brought up as they have been raised their whole life to accept the fact that they are nothing more than ornaments, child bearers and housewives. To illustrate, Dawan’s mother is voiceless against her husband’s tantrums and believes she couldn’t. Other than that, Noi believes that a girl could achieve nothing and would only end up hurt when competing with men.
  • Thus, it is taboo to educate their daughters as it is believed that it will only be wasted. Hence only the sons are educated. Bao, despite being judicious will forever be held back by her family who only thinks that she would be useful as a peddler. Dawan was lucky enough to break through this social stigma. Yet, she still faces backlash after winning the government scholarship from the head monk, her cousin and even her own father.

Unfair exploitation of the villagers by an unjust system.

  • The land lord imposes heavy taxes on the villagers, which forces them to surrender most of their harvest. Consequently, it leaves them with barely enough to fend for themselves throughout the year. Yet, the villagers are powerless over the vicious cycle of exploitation that they are forced to partake in. Hence, the land lord can gaily profit by multi-folds through this system, while the villagers continue to indefinitely labour.
  • Noi and her husband struggle yearly to satisfy the greedy demands of a corrupt army officer who forces them to pay a burdening amount in order to keep Ghan from being enlisted into the army. And when they failed to pay him, he only increased their amount with a 40% interest. Despite knowing of Noi’s family’s inability to pay he still sadistically enjoys watching them struggle out of desperation to keep their new family together.

Family ties

  • Being close to his sister, Kwai longs for his sister to be treated fairly. Hence, it was he who helped persuade their father to allow Dawan to attend the same classes he does years ago when he first attended school. In turn, Dawan looks out for him at school by waiting for him, even as their other classmates have left, to make sure he gets home safely. Despite being the eldest, Dawan was never able to enjoy her rights of being the first born, as she is always dictated to step down for her younger brother, Kwai; the eldest son of the family. But this changes when Kwai tries to force her to give up her claim on the scholarship she had won. The sibling’s relationship are put to the test as they both have become wary and suspicious of each other’s intentions. However, when Kwai doesn’t return home after long hours, Dawan would always go out to look for him, even if it’s already dark. Moreover, despite being at the face of his father’s fury, Kwai still unwaveringly stands by his sister’s side to give her as much support as he could. This shows the deep bond that can never fully be broken between the siblings albeit the trials they face against each other.

Education as a fulcrum to progression.

  • A large majority of the villagers are uneducated and thus, oblivious to ways to improve their living conditions. Thus, farmers like Kwai’s father, hopes that their son would succeed in furthering his education before returning to help lighten their family’s financial burdens.
  • Dawan’s teacher is aware about the importance of education and hence, tries to guide his students about the importance of education to change the dire circumstances that they all live in. He encourages his students to think  independently for themselves, to scrutinise the flaws in the rules that make up their village’s tax systems and their rights to the lands they and their ancestors before them had laboured hard on. He encourages Dawan, the winner of the scholarship to consider all those aspects to be able to discern and pick up methods that will be useful to help her people after she returns from the city.

Keeping an open mind about change.

  • A change for the better can only occur, if a society is willing to accept it. Although the village daughters show a great aptitude for learning, most of the villagers would rather conform to conservative approaches than grant their daughters a chance at education due to their own staunch beliefs. This slows down the progress of change as many voices still remain unheard.
  • Dawan’s teacher however, despite being surrounded by others that thought otherwise, supported the need for change in the village community’s systems. He didn’t conform to conventional practices and supported Dawan in claiming her scholarship by not discouraging her from learning. Even as she stood by the door to wait for her brother who was deep in discussion with their teacher, he never shooed her away and even never stepped in the way of Dawan claiming the scholarship. This can be seen when he announced the results of the government scholarship. Instead of changing the results to favour Kwai, a more popular candidate, he chose to believe in Dawan and her capabilities to make a difference for her people.
  • Dawan’s father had been brought up under strict conditions to accept the responsibilities the men of the village must shoulder. Which was why, he was reluctant to let Dawan go, out of fear that he’d have to bend against the traditions, only to end up being wrong. Ultimately, Dawan’s father has also chose to take a leap of faith in trusting Dawan with her sharpened resolution to attain a better education for the sake of establishing a better and more comfortable future for her fellow villagers.

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