Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 567
A schoolteacher from a village close to Pusan, South Korea, Cho comes to the United States to further his education. Before reporting to campus, he decides to visit his American friend, Dick—a soldier who was stationed in South Korea during the Korean War. Dick often visited the blind children’s school where Cho was teaching and entertained students with stories about the United States. He told students that he came from a town where they had “the greatest show on earth” and once took a circus issue of Life magazine to show children its colorful pages. Cho described to the blind children what they themselves could not see: an elephant dancing, lions obeying their trainer, odd-looking animals with stripes, and the circus parade.
The blind students had trouble distinguishing the words “clown” and “crown.” Cho tried to explain the difference to them but to no avail. After one student with limited vision touched Dick’s big nose, the word “crown” stuck. Dick thereafter was known to the students as “Crown Dick.”
Cho is surprised that Dick is not at the bus station to meet him. He takes a taxi and discovers that Dick does not live in one of those homes “whose large glass windows seemed to hold an underwater richness,” homes with “shiny cars in the driveways and televisions inside.” Instead, he lives in a worn clapboard shed with a battered old car parked outside.
During the visit, Cho learns that Dick’s parents are first-generation Romanian immigrants. His family moved from Iowa to Florida after Dick’s father passed away. Cho witnesses squabbles between Dick and his mother over jobs and money. Dick’s mother, for example, does not want Dick to pay Cho’s cab fare because they need the money for Christmas. However, Dick worries about what Cho will think of them and insists on paying it. Dick’s mother tells Cho that Dick is a good boy, but he always wants to show off. Dick’s friends have offered him jobs, but he has been trying to find a “big job” by himself.
As they drive back to the bus station, Dick starts drinking. They take a detour to the beach where Dick tells Cho that one reason he decided to visit Cho’s school was that his mother complained to the army about her eyes and asked them to send him home. He wanted to learn what people with weak eyes look like and fell in love with the students. Dick confesses that he told Cho’s students “fairy stories” about what he would do when he returned home, and he asks Cho to promise not to tell them anything to disillusion them. He loves them now more than ever.
After Dick passes out, Cho decides to leave by himself. Walking back to the foot of a long, white bridge, he sees a pile of coconuts for sale and buys one. Carrying the strange fruit under his arm, he makes his way back to the city and finds the street where Dick said the greatest show on earth marched.
There Cho mails the coconut to his students in Korea and imagines them putting their heads together, touching and hugging the strange fruit and even its shadow. He can hear them say: “No, no! We will not crack it open to see what is inside. We want to keep it whole.”
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