What is the conflict in "Cranes"? (Man versus Man, Man versus Nature, etc.)

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There is certainly a wider conflict going on in the background of this story, and that conflict deals with the Korean war and how villages along the 38th parallel were affected. That is one conflict; however, I would not call it the main conflict.

There is also man vs. man...

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There is certainly a wider conflict going on in the background of this story, and that conflict deals with the Korean war and how villages along the 38th parallel were affected. That is one conflict; however, I would not call it the main conflict.

There is also man vs. man conflict between Songsam and Tokchae. Songsam fights for one side, and Tokchae fights for the other. This makes the two characters enemy combatants, and the story is about Songsam escorting Tokchae, who is now a prisoner. The two characters were former childhood friends, and there is definitely tension between the two characters—however, I would hesitate to put too much emphasis on a man vs. man conflict between these two men. The reason for that is Tokchae doesn't engage in fighting against Songsam physically or even verbally.

Songsam demands to know how many people Tokchae killed and why he didn't run away from the conflict like Songsam did. Tokchae calmly explains that he couldn't bring himself to leave his father and their farm. It takes Songsam a little bit of time to come to terms with Tokchae's stance, so I would support that much of the story's conflict is an internal man vs. self conflict.

Songsam remembers the childhood fun that he had with Tokchae, and he harbors resentment that Tokchae didn't make the same choice Songsam did. Songsam is forced to wrestle with his feelings about Tokchae, their friendship, and the fact that they are on opposite sides of a war. Songsam eventually figures out that old friendships are more important than war.

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Song-sam and Tok-chae, friends since early childhood, seem to be in conflict with each other as Song-sam leads Tok-chae as a prisoner through war-ravaged Korea. However, Song-sam actually takes his old friend when he finds him tied up as a prisoner in front of the peace office:

Song-sam sat down on the dirt floor and lit a cigarette. Tok-chae was to be escorted to Chongdan by one of the peace policemen. After a time, Song-sam lit a new cigarette from the first and stood up. ”I’ll take the fellow with me.”

Even in the beginning, Song-sam's instinct is to intervene on behalf of his friend; if he had wanted him dead, he could have simply left him where he found him.

The real conflict, then, is between these two old friends and the country which has pitted them against each other, making this conflict man versus society.

As they walk, Song-sam recalls their shared memories: the time they worked together to steal some chestnuts and Tok-chae ended up having to pull chestnut needles from Song-sam's bottom, the way they used to work together to cut fodder for their cows, and the time they caught a Tanjong crane when they were twelve. They have only ended up on opposite sides of this war because Tok-chae remained behind to care for his sick father and take care of the family farm.

A line was drawn after that at the 38th parallel, and the friends find themselves on opposite sides of it as the war in Korea rages. Song-sam has no ill will against his friend; he is simply following the orders he has been given. In the end, he chooses to help Tok-chae escape, proving that the conflict is not man versus man, but instead man versus society.

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A central conflict in the short story “Cranes” by Hwang Sun-won is that between citizens and their country. The story takes place during the Cold War, when Korea has been divided into two countries (North and South Korea). The childhood friends Tok-chae and Song-sam find themselves in separate countries, suddenly enemies. When Song-sam, now a soldier, volunteers to escort a captured Tok-chae, now a farmer, to an enemy prison, he must reconcile his feelings of loyalty to his country against his feelings of loyalty to his long-ago playmate. As they travel on, Song-sam continues to be reminded of all that Tok-chae did for him when they were young, and yet now they stand on opposite sides of a large international conflict. Song-sam’s decision at the end of the story reveals where his loyalty ultimately lies.

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