The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks Themes
by Katherine Paterson

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The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks Themes

The main themes in The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks are kindness and selflessness, grief and corruption, and beauty and ugliness.

  • Kindness and selflessness: Yasuko and Shozo’s kindness is repaid by the kindness of the imperial messengers, who are implied to be the two ducks.
  • Greed and corruption: The lord’s wish to own the drake’s beauty is symbolic of selfish and greedy desires.
  • Beauty and ugliness: Beauty, the story implies, is not only based on appearance. Compassion and love are shown to be the most beautiful qualities.

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Kindness and Selflessness

Because Yasuko sees the drake suffering in captivity, she frees him. She knows it is the right thing to do, even though she also knows there is a risk of getting into trouble with the lord. Shozo, in turn, takes the blame for Yasuko’s deed: he supports her actions and wants to prevent her needless suffering. These characters act with kindness even at their own peril. They are the opposite of the lord, who always acts selfishly and with no regard for the well-being of others.

Ultimately, these characters are rewarded for their compassion: Yasuko and Shozo’s brave act of freeing the drake does not go unanswered. The imperial messengers who arrive to rescue them act in response to Yasuko and Shozo’s compassion for the ducks. They free Yasuko and Shozo from the threat of death and guide them safely through the woods to the hut in the forest clearing. Though the story does not state this, it seems that the imperial messengers might be the ducks themselves, transformed to help those who had helped them.

Greed and Corruption

The character of the lord exemplifies the qualities of corruption and greed in the story. He is wealthy and powerful, but he is not content with his riches. He seeks to acquire even more beautiful things for himself, regardless of the cost to others of doing so. Even when Shozo cautions him against capturing the drake because it would harm the bird, the lord ignores Shozo due to his own greed and indifference to the pain of others. The lord also abuses his position of power to punish Shozo and Yasuko unjustly. He is quick to anger, and when he is displeased, he takes out his frustration on those who do not have the power to defend themselves.

Beauty and Ugliness

The drake is known for his beautiful plumage, and this is why the lord wants to...

(The entire section is 539 words.)