Define and explain the theme of the Japanese folktale, "The Sparrow with the Split Tongue."

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The moral of the tale is that the greatest gifts are those that come unexpectedly. The old wood-cutter has shown great kindness to the injured sparrow without expecting anything in return. Yet his kindness is rewarded in due course by a magnificent gift of treasure. The old man didn't seek...

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The moral of the tale is that the greatest gifts are those that come unexpectedly. The old wood-cutter has shown great kindness to the injured sparrow without expecting anything in return. Yet his kindness is rewarded in due course by a magnificent gift of treasure. The old man didn't seek the gift, but he's received it nonetheless due to his concern for the little bird's welfare.

The wood-cutter's wife, however, is greedy and unkind; she's a complete stranger to virtuous behavior. She only cares about herself and her own selfish gain. Allied to the moral of the story is the notion of karma, or "what goes around, comes around." The wood-cutter has spread nothing but kindness and affection in the world, and they have come back to him in the form of treasure. His wife, on the other hand, motivated by nothing but greed, has caused suffering to the sparrow by cutting out his tongue, and she is duly rewarded by an act of karmic payback, in the shape of a large basket filled with deadly, poisonous snakes.

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The theme of this story is that greed and selfishness cause unhappiness while kindness and selflessness bring rewards.  This is a statement of what makes (in the author’s mind) a good character.

In the story, the man is amply rewarded because of his good character.  He is kind to the sparrow and clearly cares about him.  He cares enough to wander around, trying to find the sparrow (undergoing hardships to do so in some versions of the story).  He is humble and selfless enough to meet the sparrow’s family, eat with them, and then pick the smaller treasure. 

By contrast, the woman is punished for her greed and selfishness.  She is pushy and greedy, going so far as to insist on being given a gift (where the man simply hung out with the sparrows and was spontaneously offered the gift).  For this, she is punished.

This clearly shows that the theme of the story is that a good character, in the shape of kindness and selflessness, gets rewarded. 

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