Honor and Hard Work

In A Single Shard, Tree-ear and Crane-man live according to a code of integrity, even though they live on the streets:

Foraging in the woods and rubbish heaps, gathering fallen grain-heads in the autumn—these were honorable ways to garner a meal, requiring time and work. But stealing and begging, Crane-man said, made a man no better than a dog.

Throughout the story, Tree-ear follows this code of ethics. When he breaks a piece of Min’s pottery, he works to pay for it. Whenever Ajima gives him food or clothing, he shares those gifts with Crane-man. When he realizes that Kang is hiding a new, remarkable pottery technique, he keeps the knowledge to himself until Kang reveals it.

Through Tree-ear’s story, author Linda Sue Park suggests that in order to behave with integrity, a person must behave unselfishly. Tree-ear works hard to help Min, Ajima, and Crane-man even when he does not expect to benefit. Even when faced with the hard news that he will never realize his dream to be a potter, Tree-ear sticks by his promise to help Min fulfill his goal of securing a royal commission for pottery.

Tree-ear does not ask for or expect to benefit from his integrity, but most of the good things that happen to him in the story are results of his honorable behavior. His hard work for Min gains him the ability to eat better and to provide food for his friend. His respectful behavior toward Ajima no doubt contributes to her desire to support him and give him extra food and clothing. He is also constantly loyal to Min. This loyalty is presumably part of the reason for Min’s decision to adopt Tree-ear and train him to be a potter at the end of the story.

Respect and Empathy

Closely connected to the theme of hard work is the theme of respect. Tree-ear, as a young boy, is consistently polite and respectful to all of the adults in his life. His constant politeness, even in disappointment, may seem strange to some young readers today, but it was an important element of his twelfth-century Korean culture. It is worth noting that all of the characters—not only children—are bound by rigid social rules demanding that they show respect for those who have different ranks and roles than they do.

Through her story, Linda Sue Park suggests that empathy is of paramount importance within such a rigid social structure. Social rules prevent the characters in A Single Shard from saying what they want and need, so the people...

(The entire section is 1054 words.)