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Polish Essay on Recurring Situations and Challenges


Legends are an indispensable part of the culture, tradition and literature of each country. Oral or written express emotions, moods, fears and hopes of ordinary people, rulers, noblemen living in rural and urban areas. Legends describe everyday situations and contain a number of aspects and problems faced by their heroes.

In this essay, typical situations and challenges appearing in Polish legends will be described and compared with the translation of legends of other countries. The most common recurring topics are:

- the struggle between good and evil

- difficult natural conditions and overcoming the adversities associated with them

- supernatural forces and phenomena difficult to explain

- emotions and feelings that help or are an obstacle in achieving the goal

- work ethos, family support, earning money

- overcoming  weaknesses.

The heroes of Polish legends are most often ordinary people, workers, farmers, who in their daily work must face the difficulties typical of their profession, and also overcome these difficulties to achieve the set goal. They are poorly paid for their work, they must give some of their money as a tribute, they lose their possessions or are robbed. In contrast, characters in legends tend to be wealthy, use their service and subjects, treat them unfairly, and do not provide them with decent living conditions. Often, simple people have to abandon their homes in search of a better existence and free themselves from injustice.

In other studies, fairy-tale characters such as dragons, fairies, elves, goblins and mermaids appear. They support people and cooperate with them, while in other situations they pose a threat and are a reason for struggle. These creatures often symbolize the inscrutable and mysterious part of human nature, reflect their weaknesses and the powers to which they can turn in difficult situations, counting on help. Fairytale characters are guardians of simple, weak and  people in need.

The symbolism of forces of nature such as wind, water, fire, storm is another aspect appearing in Polish legends. Water is the personification of the force on which people depend, who give this force great respect and humbleness. The forces of nature cooperate with people, provide them with the elements necessary for life. Opposing such great forces is almost always doomed to failure. The enormous power that flows from nature symbolizes Mother Earth, who is a guardian, but also, she can punish for wrongdoing and opposing her will.

Very often in Polish legends there are supernatural forces, presented in the form of devils, ghosts, and evil spirits. They usually symbolize death and everything associated with it. People know that they have no chance to fight with such great powers. There are, however, situations in which, brave heroes make an attempt to beat them, hoping that they will overcome death and evil, providing  everybody  with  peaceful life without problems and adversities.

Family members, brothers, sisters, stepmothers, mothers and godfathers are another aspect. The presented situations of family life symbolize the basic unit of the average family and describe typical situations and problems related to relationships between individual family members. There are topics such as: love, jealousy, betrayal, greed and how they affect the formation of happiness or lead to unfortunate situations for which a man is responsible. Mutual responsibility plays a key role in resolving family conflicts and strengthening interpersonal relationships.

This legend describes the story of a baker who was a single father. Once upon a time, he became ill and was unable to perform his work. The baker's illness became a challenge for his daughter, who had to face this difficult situation, taking on the responsibilities of her father. It presents the work ethos of ordinary people and family relationships. Overcoming difficulties has become the main topic of history. Hard work contributed to the achievement of the set goal and changed the fate of the girl. The second aspect in the legend is the emergence of forces of nature, bees, which helped the baker's daughter bake gingerbread. Thanks to persistent actions, the girl overcame the difficulties and gains the love of her life in the person of the prince. A simple world of people merged with the world of a rich ruler.

The legend of the Bies and Czady shows the fight of supernatural forces with a man, symbolizing the fight between good and evil. Brave San, who settled in areas inhabited by evil devils, had to fight to provide his people with a place to live and farm. This fight was not equal because evil Bies involved Czady in his ranks - sinister creatures. The kindness of the people who found the wounded Czad and helped him, contributed to the fact that Czad, in gratitude, decided to help people in the fight against Bies. We have here the symbolism of the victory of good over evil. An example of the fact that good deeds pay off, that it is worth helping others. Eventually San stood up to the fight against Bies. They both die. San became an example that devoted his life to saving his tribe. In the legend we also see the action of the forces of nature. A river that with its power kidnapped the warring parties and gave an end to both of them.

In another Polish legend about the Ślęza mountain we are dealing with a fight of supernatural forces. Malicious devils, driven by jealousy and revenge, have tried to hinder the lives of happy people. Evil seemed to dominate when angels suddenly step in to protect good people from destruction. The challenge is to overcome the dark powers through good deeds. We can see a religious aspect here. Christian tradition was an important element in the life of a simple society that turned to God in difficult times. People completely gave their problems to good powers and believed that good prevails. The legend illustrates a classic example of such beliefs. Evil was defeated, and people gained peace through the trust they have placed in God. Evil annihilated itself.

The challenge taken by a simple shoemaker Dratewka became the background to create the legend of the Wawel dragon. Many wealthy knights tried to kill the dragon, which posed a threat to the entire local community, but it was an ordinary man, with his cunning character, who defeated the beast. We see here an example of an attitude that not social origin is the strength of action, but a strong character and persistent pursuit of the goal. The brave Datewka overcame fear and his own limitations. The king promised that the daredevil who would defeat the dragon would get his daughter for his wife. The class difference between the royal family and a simple shoemaker is blurring here. Heroism becomes a feature of simple people. This legend encourages us to take up difficult challenges regardless of who we are and where we come from.

Mr. Twardowski is an example of a legend where there is cooperation between a man and supernatural forces. The educated nobleman decided to sell his soul to the devil in exchange for benefits and access to magic power. Twardowski's cunning character  led him to sign the pact, and the scientist began to use the acquired power to help people. The scholar's goal was to outsmart the devil. However, he did not foresee that the devil would at all costs want to stick to the terms of the contract and take his soul to hell. There is a religious element in the legend. Confused Twardowski, who did not foresee the consequences of cooperation with the devil, asks the Holy Mother for help. Prayer becomes for him the only source of help and escape from the destructive power of the devil. This symbolizes people's trust in the divine action. In difficult situations, people in the Christian tradition turn to God.

The legend of the Warsaw mermaid is one of the most popular legends in Poland. The legend depicts simple people, fishermen, who noticed an unusual creature on the bank of the Vistula river. It was a woman with a fish tail. In literature, the mermaid symbolizes the fullness of femininity. Fishermen were impressed by the song of the mermaid, which aroused the workers' admiration, approval of beauty and even love. In contrast, the legend shows a rich merchant who, driven by jealousy, decides to kidnap a mermaid and imprison her. The merchant was driven by hypocrisy and a desire to earn money on an unusual phenomenon. However, there was a man who took care of the fate of the mermaid and decided to free her from captivity. The mermaid swam away slowly. Finally, she promised that she would protect her saviors. We are dealing here with the connection of the world of fairy-tale creatures with the lives of simple people. In the legend we can see the aspect of liberation from hardship and gratitude for the help provided.

The legend of Skarbnik - miner's guardian - is associated with the Silesia region. It was believed that the underground of the mines was inhabited by Skarbnik, who helps miners in their daily work. Miners were often exposed to danger, it happened that some were killed and buried in coal. The legend describes the difficulties simple workers had to struggle with to earn a living and support their families. This profession was highly respected, and the miners themselves worked honestly and helped each other. The treasurer was depicted as an old man with a long beard and a lantern in his hand, which illuminated the corridors of the mine. Only good and honest people would be able to count on his help and favor. In the legend there is  also the character of a young boy who, after the death of his father, had to take care of his family. Fraudsters were punished. The legend emphasizes persistent work and respect for the miner's hard work. Honesty is always rewarded.