Study Guide

Cranes

by Hwang Sun-Won

Cranes Summary

Synopsis

The short story “Cranes,” published in 1953, was written by Hwang Sun-won, a prominent author in the Korean literary canon. The story is set during the Korean War in a small village along the thirty-eighth parallel. Tokchae, one of the story's main characters, was the vice-chairman of the Farmers’ Communist League, but he was forcibly removed from his home and is now a prisoner. He is to be escorted by the police to another police station in Ch’ongdan.

One of the officers, Songsam, realizes that Tokchae is his childhood friend, so he volunteers to serve as escort. Songsam thinks of offering Tokchae a cigarette, but he thinks the timing is bad. Then Songsam reminisces on the times when, as children, Tokchae shared chestnuts with him. Songsam changes his mind and decides to offer a cigarette.

Along the way, Songsam feels a sudden burst of anger and asks Tokchae how many men he has killed in the war. 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. To persuade Tokchae to break his silence, Songsam tells him, “You’re going to be shot anyway.” Tokchae then says that he became part of the league because he was a hardworking farmer; he did not run because his life is wrapped around working the land. Tokchae has a wife who is carrying their child, and he tells Songsam that it is not so easy to just run away. 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.

Eventually the two men come upon a field where as children they tied up a crane. The boys feared that they would be caught and punished, so they untied the crane, which was weak and appeared hurt. But the crane suddenly took flight, and the boys watched it ascend to the sky. Now Songsam unties Tokchae’s hands and asks Tokchae to help him flush out a crane. At first Tokchae fears that Songsam will shoot him, but then he understands that Songsam is giving him an opportunity to run to freedom. In the end, “Cranes” suggests that friendship may overcome ideological differences.