My article discusses the importance and usefulness of oral literature in the study of cultures. Oral literature includes many different unwritten literary and poetic forms such as myths, narratives, folktales, epics, lyrics, songs, proverbs, and riddles. Some were collected and kept in written forms. My study is focused on these collected materials in various source books. Oral literature that remains today either in written or verbal form is considered to have been made in the middle and late Choson period. It is evidently an important data to study the folk literary forms of Choson. In addition, I have focused on the folk literary forms as historical and cultural source material. In this respect, oral literature contributes to the study of culture by allowing an exploration of the folk people's social background and psychology of their thoughts, values and consciousness through the time period.
I have examined two categories of popular folk stories. One is a category of stories about pious sons, daughters, and daughters-in-law which exist in many versions. The narratives based on filial piety are considered the most popular theme in the Korean oral literature. During the period of mid-Choson a new family system emphasizing the exclusive succession to the eldest son and the corporation of patrilineal kin groups were established along with the adoption of Neo-Confucian ideology by the State and the Yangban elites. Under these circumstances, the folk people also began being educated and learned the new values, morals and virtue about family relationships and life. These different stories about dedicated and faithless sons, daughters-in-law, and daughters tell us that the folk people of the period were ambivalent about the new system of family relationships and patrilineal kinship. While many people appreciated and praised such new familial ideology, some resented and spoke out against it.
The other category of stories is about a baby warrior with mythical power. This story also exists in many versions. However, the common theme in the baby warrior narratives is that the powerless should obey authority without resistance. These stories also taught the powerless survival strategy for existing in a stratified society without much difficulty. The folk people tended towards protecting themselves rather than resisting or defying authority and risking their lives.
The two categories of folk stories deserve special attention because they reveal the folk people's understanding of the world, values, and their psychology. Even though the stories do not specifically address changes in structures of family relationships and social stratification, oral literature clarifies the folk people's belief in family relationships and political relationships between authority and the powerless.