In the story "Cranes," what do the cranes symbolize?

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In Asian culture, cranes are generally symbols of good fortune and longevity. Since this story is set in Korea, one can assume that it depicts the same or a similar theme.

The narrator describes an encounter between two childhood friends who had been separated because of the Korean War. When the conflict began, one decided to flee from their village and the other stayed behind. Their meeting, years later, finds them in contrasting positions of the political divide. As such, they have now become enemies.

It is clear from the text that one, Song-sam, is in a superior position to the other, Tok-chae. Tok-chae has been arrested as an enemy of the state and is to be taken to another village for execution. His former friend, Song-sam, asks to take him. The narrator shares Song-sam's thoughts and sentiments with the reader and provides insight into the two men's past relationship. It becomes clear that they were best friends who shared a number of adventures in their youth.

The cranes that they come across reminds Song-sam of their experience with a crane and how they kept it as a pet for fun and entertainment. They eventually set it free when they realized that it would be captured "as a specimen or something." Their chief concern at the time was the crane's safety and not the fact that they would get into trouble for capturing it.

In this sense, the crane firstly symbolizes their friendship. They shared a common interest, and they had a shared love for the creature. Cranes, being wild animals, also symbolize freedom. They are unfettered by social or political events and continue following their instincts and living according to their custom. This is clearly illustrated by the statement:

The cranes were still living here, as before, while the people were all gone.

Son-sam realizes that their entrapment of the creature put it in danger and he seems to accept that, symbolically, their actions did more harm than good. In this regard, the animal's initial inability to walk or fly became a symbol of their carelessness and abuse, just as the war had entrapped them and made them victims.

The fact that that their crane, despite its disability, was only encouraged to fly off by the appearance of another, and not by the impending...

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