The Social contract and symbolic structure in three Vietnamese tales of the 'last born'

Tran Quynh Ngoc Bui

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this study of how a last-born sibling in three Vietnamese folktales is cut off from a reasonable share of an inheritance after the death of the father, I argue that this tale type is structured to affirm the idea of a just social contract, and the motif of the last born tale type is affected by shifts in social structure away from a tradition of ultimogeniture. With the rise of a patriarchal system, the youngest was ousted and effectively disinherited. The youngest, who has little possibility of leading a happy life in a society which privatizes property and assigns it to the eldest, becomes a sympathetic figure and the ultimate beneficiary, in folktale, of power and happiness. By focusing on the contrapuntal depiction of the actions of the two brothers and the tale's allocation of appropriate rewards and punishments, I conclude that this depiction reflects a clear moral perspective on the notion of a just social contract and social attitude toward society's 'unfortunates'.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-310
Number of pages18
JournalAsian Ethnology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Vietnam
  • folktale
  • last-born
  • ultimogeniture
  • social-contract


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