What is the main idea of Cranes by Hwang Sunwon? The main idea of Cranes by Hwang Sun-Won is more of a symbolic thing; he uses different objects such as chestnuts and cigarettes, as well as the cranes in the story to convey his hope and his dream, along with his message. He is expressing the power of war, particularly civil war, which can rip apart families, neighbors and the best of friends. The story, unlike many other tragic civil war tales, is not focused on the idealogical difference btw Tok-Chae and Song-Sam. Rather, it is about the human tragedy of the Korean War.

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These two groups helped establish the governments with two very diverse ways N. Korea is communist and S. Korea is a Republic. The dividing line between North and South Korea is the 38th Parallel. In , Communist forces crossed the parallel in an invasion that started the Korean War.

In , a truce was arranged, but skirmishes at the 38th parallel continued to erupt. During the war, many villages along the 38th parallel changed hands several times.

Cranes is set in one of those villages. The Korean War, like all civil wars, sometimes pitted relative against relative, neighbor against neighbor, and friend against friend. This story focuses on one of these relationships. The northern village at the border of the Thirty-eighth Parallel was snugly settled under the high, bright autumn sky.

One white gourd lay against another on the dirt floor of an empty farmhouse. The occasional village elders first put out their bamboo pipes before passing by, and the children, too, turned aside some distance off.

Their faces were ridden with fear. The village as a whole showed few traces of destruction from the war, but it did not seem like the same village Song-sam had known as a boy. At the foot of a chestnut grove on the hill behind the village he stopped and climbed a chestnut tree. Holding the trunk of the tree, Song-sam gazed at the blue sky for a while. Some chestnuts fell to the ground as the dry clusters opened of their own accord. In front of the farmhouse that had been turned into a public peace-police office, a young man stood, tied up.

He seemed to be a stranger, so Song-sam approached him to have a close look. He was taken aback; it was none other than his boyhood playmate, Tok-chae. Song-sam sat down on the dirt floor and lit a cigarette. Tok-chae was to be escorted to Chongdan by one of the peace policemen. After a time, Song-sam lit a new cigarette from the first and stood up. They left the village. Song-sam kept on smoking, but the tobacco had no taste.

He just kept drawing in the smoke and blowing it out. Then suddenly he thought that Tok-chae, too, must want a puff. He thought of the days when they used to share dried gourd leaves behind walls, hidden from the adults. But today, how could he offer a cigarette to a fellow like this? Once when they were small, he went with Tok-chae to steal some chestnuts from the grandpa with a wen. Suddenly there came shuts from the old man. He slipped and fell to the ground. Song-sam got chestnut needles all over his bottom, but he kept on running.

It was only when they reached a safe place where the old man could not overtake them that he turned his bottom to Tok-chae. Plucking out those needles hurt so much that he could not keep tears from welling up in his eyes. Then he made up his mind not to light another while he was escorting Tok-chae. They reached the hill pass, the hill where he and Tok-chae used to cut fodder for the cows until Songsam had had to move near Chontae, south of the Thirty-eighth Parallel, two years before the liberation.

Tok-chae turned toward him once again and glared. The glare grew intense and his mouth twitched. You must have been lying low with a secret mission. Tok-chae is hiding something, Song-sam thought. He wanted to take a good look at him, but Tok-chae would not turn his averted face. You are sure to be shot anyway. They made me vice-chairman of the league because I was one of the poorest and I was a hard-working farmer. If that constitutes a crime worthy of death, so be it.

He has been ill almost half a year. Seven years ago his back had given out and his skin had become diseased. Such a cold fish! He and Tok-chae used to tease her and make her cry. And Tok-chae had married that girl. Although he had asked how many kids Tok-chae had, he could not help wanting to burst into laughter at the image of her sitting down, with a large stomach, one span around.

But he realized this was no time to laugh or joke over such matters. They said that once the South invaded, no man would be spared. So men between seventeen and forty were forcibly taken to the North. I though of evacuating, even if I had to carry my father on my back. But father said no. How could the farmers leave the land behind when the crops were ready for harvest?

He grew old on that farm depending on me as the prop and mainstay of the family. I wanted to be with him in his last moments sothat I could close his eyes with my own hand. Besides, where can farmers like us go, who know only living on the land? At night he had broken the news privately to his father. But his father had said the same thing! Where can a farmer go, leaving all the chores behind?

So Song-sam left alone. Roaming about the strange streets and villages in the South. Song-sam had been haunted by thoughts of his old parents and the young children, left with all the chores. Fortunately, his family was safe then, as now. They crossed the ridge of a hill.

This time Song-sam walked with his face averted. The autumn sun was hot on his forehead. This was an ideal day for the harvest, he thought. When they reached the foot of the hill, Song-sam hesitatingly stopped.

In the middle of the field he spied a group of cranes that looked like men in white clothes bending over. This used to be the neutralized zone along the Thirty-eighth Parallel. The cranes were still living here, as before, while the people were all gone. Once, when Song-sam and Tok-chae were about twelve, they had set a trap here, without the knowledge of the adults, and had caught a crane, a Tanjong crane.

They had roped the crane, even its wings, and had paid daily visits, patting its neck and riding on its back. Then one day they overheard the neighbors whispering. Then and there the two boys dashed off to the field. That they would be found out and punished was no longer a weighty concern; all they worried about was the fate of their crane. But the bird could hardly walk. It must have been worn out from being bound. The two held it up in the air.

Then, all of a sudden, a shot was fired. The crane fluttered its wings a couple of times and came down again. It was shot, they thought. For a long time the two boys could not take their eyes away from the blue sky into which their crane had soared. Tok-chae was puzzled, struck dumb. Pretty soon a bullet would fly from where Song-sam had gone, he thought. Some paces away, Song-sam quickly turned toward him.

Go flush the crane! He started crawling among the weeds. A couple of Tanjong cranes soared high into the clear blue autumn sky, fluttering their huge wings. Sun-won, H. Cranes P. Lee, Trans.


Cranes by Hwang Sun-won

One of the officers, Songsam, realizes that Tokchae is his childhood friend, so he volunteers to serve as escort. Tokchae remains silent. Songsam presses him, but Tokchae will not speak. Songsam asks Tokchae why he did not run away instead of becoming part of the war. Songsam compares this to his own situation,he left behind his family and all that was important to him to escape and go into hiding. At first Tokchae fears that Songsam will shoot him, but then he understands that Songsam is giving him an opportunity to go free.


Hwang Sun-won






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