In Cranes by Hwang Sun-won, what was Songsam's relationship with Tokchae like when they were children?

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lynn11 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Although now torn apart by war and the separation of North Korea and South Korea, Songsam and Tokchae were quite close when they were children, as indicated by a few flashbacks throughout “Cranes.” In one particularly touching flashback, Songsam and Tokchae are stealing chestnuts from a tree when Songsam falls and suffers being pricked by chestnut needles all over his bottom. Tokchae patiently removes the needles and then hands his friend a bunch of chestnuts to enjoy.

The pivotal flashback is to when the boys were twelve and decided to secretly catch and keep a crane, only to let it go free when they feared it would be captured or killed by someone else. It is this memory that triggers Songsam’s drastic act of compassion; he forms an idea, using this memory of crane-catching, to let his old friend Tokchae escape capture and execution.

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Jonathan Beutlich eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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When Tokchae and Songsam were children, they were childhood friends with each other. 

The story gives some small details from the characters' pasts that indicate that the two men were fairly close friends.  For example, Songsam initially thinks that offering Tokchae a cigarette is bad timing, but then he remembers that Tokchae and he shared stuff with each other when they were children.

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.

Near the story's conclusion, Tokchae and Songsam arrive at a field together.  The reader is told that this is the same field where the two men captured and freed a crane together as young boys.  

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.

Tokchae believes that he is about to be executed in this very same field, but because of their childhood bond, Songsam decides to let Tokchae run away.  Just as the two men let the crane go free as boys, Songsam is now letting Tokchae go free as well.  

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