In Hwang Sun-Won’s short story “Cranes,” protagonist Songsam is an officer representing democratic South Korea during the Korean War. This civil war brings him back to his childhood home, a “northern village at the border of the Thirty-eighth Parallel.” Here, he works as a “public-peace police officer”...
In Hwang Sun-Won’s short story “Cranes,” protagonist Songsam is an officer representing democratic South Korea during the Korean War. This civil war brings him back to his childhood home, a “northern village at the border of the Thirty-eighth Parallel.” Here, he works as a “public-peace police officer” guarding the boundary between South Korea and North Korea. When his childhood friend Tokchae—vice-chairman of a farmers’ communist league in North Korea—is captured and headed for execution in Chongdan, Songsam volunteers to escort the prisoner.
Songsam’s reason for returning to his old village appears to be out of ideological service in support of South Korea. Is the reason for his return a strong allegiance to South Korea or guilt resulting from earlier actions he took for self-preservation? He does not seem to be back for sentimental reasons. Songsam is not friendly terms with the villagers, whose “faces [are] 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 Songsam had known as a boy.
While walking with Tokchae to Chongdan, Songsam recalls their boyhood antics and close friendship that lasted
until Song-sam had had to move near Chontae, south of the Thirty-eighth Parallel, two years before the liberation.
Tokchae explains to Songsam that he did not flee to the South like Songsam did because Tokchae could not leave his own father, a farmer tied to his land and crops.
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 so that I could close his eyes with my own hand.
On the other hand, Songsam made the decision to flee despite abandoning his family.
Last June Song-sam had had to take refuge. 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.
Songsam’s return to his old village is ostensibly out of patriotic duty; his interaction with Tokchae, however, reveals that he may be returning to the village out of a sense of guilt. Perhaps in order to make the desertion of his family ideologically worthwhile and to assuage any feeling of shame, Songsam readily executes duties as a South Korean officer enforcing rule in his childhood village.