The Ungrateful Children in Tales the People Tell in Russia, Lee Wyndham.


Ethnic Origin



Running Time

~16 minutes


Power Center

I feel that this story has a variety of possible power centers. One could really chose to make the sadder aspects of the story the driving force throughout, and this would certainly be a interesting choice for a power center. I am, however aiming for a much different power center with this telling.  I would like to accent the absurdity of the childrens acts to their father, making the story much more comical.  While the sadder aspects of the story are certainly still present, I feel that adding more humor to the story catches the audience off guard.  The story has a wonderful and clear-cut moral for us all, and focusing on the comedy in the story should surprise the audience into receiving and understanding that moral.



The old man

His four sons and their wives

The nobleman



The lonely old man

The old man living with his eldest son

The old man living with his second son

The old man living with his third and fourth sons

The meeting of the sons

The old mans journey

The encounter with the nobleman/presenting the wooden box

The old mans explanation to his sons

The old mans death/funeral

The opening of the wooden box

The humiliation of the children/The old mans triumph


*If you wanted to, you can break the story down into fewer scenes. I chose to use several scenes rather than fewer because it helped to keep an upward flow in my telling/analysis of the story.



An old man finds himself alone in his life after his wife has died and his children have grown up and started their own families.  He decides to  live the rest of his days with his children.  At each of his four sons houses, he is treated very poorly.  Although his only sin is that he is old, he wears out his welcome at each of his sons houses. The sons decide to send him to a nearby orphanage that also serves as a school.  Not having any other options, the old man agrees. On his journey to the school, he meets a nobleman that was driving by in a carriage.  Upon hearing the old mans story, the nobleman presents him with a wooden box and tells him a distinct plan of what he should do when he returns to the village.  The old man goes home to the village, never letting the box out of his sight and explaining to his sons that the box is full of fortune.  Whichever son is the nicest to their father will receive his father when he passes away.  All four sons immediately begin swooning all over their father.  Eventually the old man dies and after a lavish funeral in his honor, the children set out to open their fortune.  It is revealed that the box was full of nails and that even in his death, the old man had taught his children a lesson.



He packed up his things, threw them over his shoulder, and walked off... (physical effect) the baby had a baby The four sons I dont want him (physical effect-stepping one spot over while each son speaks) The presenting/shaking of the box The opening/spilling of the box



With a story this long, I felt that it was crucial to have a lot of repetition throughout.  This story certainly has that, since the old man experiences things with each of his four sons.  I strongly feel that no matter what the age, listeners appreciate hearing the same basic things, rather than having a lot of new information thrown at them in a short amount of time.  The story is great for anyone over the age of about 13.  This is because it has an unspoken message if the listener is willing to accept it/figure it out.  Adults appreciate it because they are probably parents, and the story hits home.  Teens would enjoy it because it is a fast moving story with some darker components which are okay to laugh at.  And the introduction of the box in the story should liven up the mood, with some hopefully not able to take their eyes off of it in anticipation of its opening, probably what the children in the story were feeling as well.


I really stumbled on this story as I was researching other stories for this performance.  I was in the unusual position to have found a story, but then having to find out how I would go about finding this story, if that makes any sense at all.  However, I could not find a listing of this story in the Storytellers Sourcebook.  I looked in all the different sections and tried a variety of different key words, but none led to any version of this story.  I know that I was probably still doing something wrong, but I was stuck without a variant.  The only information that I was able to find out was that the story has a Cossack background, coming from South Russia.  "The story is found in the collection of Rudchenko, in he ruthenian dialect."