Written by students of FC1750.06
at Founders College, York University
Two authors who grapple with Korea's search for an identity differ in their portrayals of the Koreans. While Hwang Sunwon demonstrates the triumph of compassion over military conflict in "Cranes," Yi Chong-jun shows the propensity for taking advantage of others' misfortunes in the struggle for survival.
In recent decades, families were ripped apart as local areas were divided between north and south after liberation in 1948. Growing up in the north, before the partition, Songsam in "Cranes" had fled to the south while Tokchae was forced to remain with his father. The two childhood friends are reunited in a hostile situation--Songsam is escorting Tokchae to certain death. Finally Songsam's compassion breaks through the armor of rigid doctrine as they begin to reminisce, and Songsam sees Tokchae as a human being again. The story ends on a hopeful note that Koreans can love each other regardless of political differences.
Conversely, Yi Chong-jun's story "The Cruel City" is less than optimistic. It discusses the greedy dealings of a prison-side merchant, whose business was originally designed to allow newly released prisoner or visitors to buy birds in order to set them free. An old man who has just been set free stays near this shop for days and collects coins laboriously to buy birds. he develops a conversational relationship with the owner of the lucrative business. This young owner, however, turns out to be capitalizing on people's misfortunes. He cuts the tendons of captured birds and sells, then resells them. His unscrupulous deeds contrast the compassionate devotion of the old ex-convict. Yi's story seems to lament on the existence of Koreans who make profit by deception of their own countrymen.
By and large, both stories intimate the searching for identity of the Korean people in postwar Korea. However, the two authors view human nature differently and give heart- warming as well as unflattering accounts of their fellow countrymen.
Hwang, Sunwon. "Cranes." In Flowers of Fire: Twentieth-Century Korean
Yi, Chong-jun. "The Cruel City." Trans. Choe Yong. In The Cruel City and other
Stories. Ed. by the Korean National Commission for UNESCO. Arch Cape,
Oregon: Pace International Research, 1983. 1-40.
Copyright © 1996 by the authors. Information from this article should be attributed to the authors.