What is the main conflict and resolution in A Single Shard?

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randroid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A Single Shard is set in a small village in Korea in the 12th century. The story centers around Tree-ear, a young orphan who lives under a bridge with an old man named Crane-man.

There are, in my view, two main conflicts in this story. The first conflict revolves around Tree-ear's desire to learn how to be a potter.

Min is a potter in their area who creates very fine pottery. Often, Tree-ear surreptitiously watches Min at work, and develops a fantasy of learning how to spin clay like Min can. As a homeless orphan, Tree-ear has practically no way to make this dream come true. One day, he enters Min's yard when no one is around to take a surreptitiously take a closer look at the pottery. He accidentally breaks an expensive piece of pottery, and agrees to work for a furious Min to pay off the debt. After he pays off his debt, he begins to work for Min in exchange for food from Min's wife. Tree-ear hopes that Min will teach him how to become a potter, but when he asks him, Min tells him that the craft is only passed down from father to son.

The second conflict occurs when a royal emissary comes to town to find a potter for a royal commission. Min produces good enough work to merit consideration from the emissary over the other potters in town. However, what the emissary really wants to see Min produce is a revolutionary form of inlay that one of the other potters in town had just created (and received a royal commission for). So Min and Tree-ear go to work to produce vases with the new inlay before the emissary leaves the next day. Due to truly bad luck and no one's fault, the vases all misfire in the kiln, ruining the batch. Fortunately, the emissary understands. He tells Min that if he brings a good sample of his work to the capital, he will consider him for a commission. However, Min is too old to go himself. Out of gratitude for the kindness Min and his wife have shown him and Crane-man, Tree-ear offers to go to the capital in his stead with two precious vases.

What occurs on the journey is the second conflict of the book. While traveling, Tree-ear is robbed by two thieves. When they see that he only has two expensive vases that they can't sell without raising suspicion, they are infuriated. In spiteful rage, they break the vases. Can you imagine how crushed Tree-ear felt? After an entire journey, he had nothing left to show for his efforts. With a last shred of hope, he finds a single shard of pottery on the ground that clearly shows the fine inlay. He brings it to to the capital and finds the royal emissary, successfully procuring the commission. The conflict here was partially internal—Tree-ear felt that all hope was lost. What was the point of struggling to reach the capital if his efforts there might not pay off anyway? But he persevered, and achieved what he came to do.

The first conflict I detailed earlier (Tree-ear's desire to learn the pottery trade) is resolved at the end of the book. Tree-ear returns home elated to share the good news with Min. When he finds Min, he is devastated to find out from him that Crane-man died in an accident in Tree-ear's absence. Min offers to adopt him, and teach him how to be a potter. With his feelings a cocktail of loss and hope for the future, Tree-ear joins Min's household as a son.