Like in many other folk tales, the characters in “The Beggar’s Roti” are unnamed, and the setting is vague and undisclosed. The logic behind not contextualizing the setting or characters is that these stories can happen anywhere, to anyone. In the social landscape of fairy tales, fortune is fluid, and a prince can easily be reduced to a beggar, just as easily as a beggar can be elevated to the rank of prince. What generally dictates the fortunes of characters in fairy tales is the moral valence of their actions, which, unlike in the real world, have immediately tangible consequences. This Indo-Caribbean folktale is no exception to this rule. The story begins by recounting the daily routine of an unnamed beggar who lives near a small fishing village, once upon a time. The beggar, old and decrepit, cannot make his living fishing, and as a result, is reduced to begging for his livelihood. Despite this setback, the beggar is not bitter or filled with shame by his humble circumstances. On the contrary, he is deeply thankful for the charity he receives, and compassionate towards others in dire need. The beggar’s spiritual opposite is the unnamed woman who hails from a wealthy merchant family. Despite her good fortune, the woman is spiteful and contemptuous of the poor, particularly of the beggar.
Unlike the beggar, whose actions are motivated by necessity, the woman’s motives for attempting to poison the beggar are arbitrary. One day, she decides out of simple “amusement” to “rid herself” of the beggar while her family is away. To this end, she agrees to make the him a fresh roti roll, but secretly mixes venom, from a poison dart frog, into the dough. The beggar is grateful for the culinary delight, and decides to save the roll for dinner. By sheer chance, the husband and son of the malevolent baker find themselves taking refuge in the beggar’s hut during a fierce storm. Out of hospitality, the beggar selflessly offers his roll to his ungracious guests, who proceed to devour the roll while simultaneously mocking his poor lodgings. Under this system of karmic justice, the evil baker unwittingly murders her husband and son, and secures her own self imposed banishment from the village. Furthermore, the beggar is rewarded for his good nature, and the villagers allow him to live in the grand house formerly occupied by his would-be murderer. This piece is perfect as part of a lesson on folktales and fables, especially those with a moral bent. In particular, this piece work work well in conjunction with the Books That Grow piece, Sinbad, to help teach students about the values of charity, selflessness, and perseverance.
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
Compare and contrast stories in the same genre (e.g., mysteries and adventure stories) on their approaches to similar themes and topics.
Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character's thoughts, words, or actions).
From your experience, how do fairytales normally end? What happens to “good” characters? And what happens to those who are “bad?”
Although the wealthy woman in the story refuses to feed the beggar, and meets him at her door with ready insults, how does the beggar treat the woman? Use an example(s) from the text to support your answer. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.4.1)
Based on her thoughts and actions, how would you describe the woman in the story? What is her motivation for wishing to do the beggar harm? Use details from the story to support your answer. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.4.3)
Based upon the story’s ending, what do you think the intended moral is? Do you feel that what happens to the woman, and to the beggar, is fair given the circumstances? Support your answer. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.2)
Connections In Text
Compare “The Beggar’s Roti” with the Books That Grow piece, “Sinbad The Sailor.” Although these stories differ in terms of plot, in many ways they celebrate the same values. While comparing these pieces, note down what character virtues are rewarded, and what character vices are punished. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.9)
This link provides teachers with a number of resources to aid in instruction regarding folktales, myths and fairytales. The link comes equipped with recommended in class activities, supplemental readings, and lesson plans.
G7 Challenging Vocabulary
admonishing, gaudy, customary, overwhelm, alleged, grim
G5 Challenging Vocabulary
luxurious, providing, grim
G3 Challenging Vocabulary
fortunate, examined, theory