2011 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Senior second place

Sarah Walsh

For an unknown number of centuries, hope has been the universal quality that pushes the human race forward in the face of adversity. To teach this ideal, numerous books have been written, including the short story “Cranes” by Hwang Sunwon. Within the tale, Sunwon specifically focuses on the tribulations that were faced during the Korean Civil War between North and South Korea. In his story, Sunwon illustrates potential reconciliation between the two Koreas when he features Songsam, a refugee to South Korea, reminiscing on his childhood with Tokchae, who remains in North Korea, and ultimately, bestowing freedom upon Tokchae.  At the same time, Sunwon demonstrates the damage between loved ones because of war, while avoiding a naïve message.

The human tendency toward hope first presents itself after Songsam and Tokchae begin to walk together toward Tokchae’s doom. After realizing that Tokchae is his childhood friend, Songsam is still disturbed by Tokchae remaining on North Korean soil, but begins to soften. Songsam realizes that Tokchae is still a person and needs to be treated as one, at least on some level. It occurs to Songsam to offer Tokchae a cigarette as a fellow man, but then revaluates this decision because Songsam also realizes that this man, who was once his friend, is also a prisoner. Despite Songsam’s internal refusal to give Tokchae a cigarette out of consideration, Songsam is still kind enough to refrain from smoking in front of Tokchae. Songsam’s ability to acknowledge Tokchae as more than an enemy provides hope for a reconciliation between the two men and, perhaps even, Japan.

Another instance when Songsam demonstrates the ideal of hope is when he begins to use small talk with Tokchae about his family. Songsam pesters Tokchae into telling him that Tokchae has married a girl that the boys used to believe to be hideous and that Tokchae is expecting to have a child with her. While this gives Songsam a chuckle, he more importantly realizes that he still has a connection to the people that he is trying to destroy. The life that he once lived continues on with out him and its memory provides him with the fondness for them he once knew. The fact that Songsam takes a moment to consider those who were once essentially his family means that there is hope that Songsam and Tokchae can renew their friendship.

The ultimate example of hope for reconciliation between Songsam and Tokchae, the metaphorical two Koreas, is when Songsam gives Tokchae his freedom. The miraculous part of this gift is that the decision behind it is yet again a memory of the person Tokchae was to Songsam. The choice to let Tokchae be free occurs directly after Songsam remembers the time the boys caught a crane together and eventually almost killed it. While the near-death of the crane is upsetting to Songsam, it is more importantly a realization. When remembering their fight to save the crane, Songsam is simultaneously recovering the figurative crane of commonality that has been lost between Songsam and Tokchae. By recapturing the events of their past, Songsam gives hope for a better future for both men and their countries.

Equally as evident as the hope for ceasefire between the two “Koreas” is the idea that the story is more than a naïve hope for a better future, but also, a commentary on the need for family love that binds us together. Some people foolishly believe that hope is a naïve trait to be in possession. In truth, hope acts as the adhesive that binds together success. While North and South Korea are battling each other, both sides have a hope to win, but not a hope for togetherness. The essentialness of a hopeful unity is in the story’s commentary on how the war is dividing people of the same fiber and background. “Cranes” could be seen as a story of sweet optimism, but it is truly revealing the need for people to put aside their differences and hope for a better future together.

Unfortunately for the modern world, North and South Korea have not been able to make their peace. Despite this fact, “Cranes” is still capable of inspiring hope for both Koreas and the two metaphorical men. If more men such as Songsam and Tokchae came forth in the world and remembered who they are two one another, a reconciliation may happen sooner than one may think. Until that occurs, Sunwon illustrates what a bright future may be just a few crane-catchings away.