Written by students of FC1750.06
at Founders College, York University
Vol.2, no. 3, June-August, 1997
Ben Bacola: Although the storekeeper in the bird shop seems cruel and very deceiving, I hesitate to condemn him without reservation. To the public, he seems to be a good man. After all he is the one who wants to see the birds released in front of him to ensure that they are set free. He provides the customers with such meaningful experiences. In a sense they are freeing themselves as they free the birds. But the storekeeper has clipped off parts of the birds' wings so that they cannot fly far away. After dark, he catches them again in a nearby forest.
Before we criticize the man for his evil intention, we should look at the situation from other perspectives. Perhaps he really wants people to experience a feeling of freedom as they release the birds. He may have viewed his job as a noble calling. When the old man does not have enough money to pay for a bird's release, the storekeeper still gives him one to free.
Julie Shim: The story is highly symbolic of the Korean people's plight because one can say they are the birds that are recaptured over and over again. It is sad to realize that the seller, a Korean himself, is also among those who prey on his people. The old man, of a generation long past, resembles the birds in the cages. He has become so accustomed to being a prisoner that he feels the need of direction. He waits for his son to care for him. He continues to cling to the prison that has dominated his life for so long. In the end he does leave, but unfortunately his path and his future are uncertain. The same can be said of the Korean people.
Ben Bacola: The storekeeper lives in "The Cruel City." Perhaps the people he has looked up to in his whole life have valued money above fellow citizens. Perhaps he is never taught to care. Would this man turn out differently if he lived in "The Kind City"?
Hilaneh Mahmoudi: I agree with Ben that the old man releases the birds in order to experience the joys of freedom. But it is only an illusion of freedom. The story itself depicts the Korean people and their dream of independence, which has not been fully realized even after the Second World War. As long as there are ruthless individuals who prey on their victims, Korea or the world as a whole is a cruel city.
Candy Wong: Human beings' propensity to cruelty, as demonstrated in the Korean short stories, saddens me. Tokchae and Songsam in "Cranes" were childhood friends, but divided by the 38th parallel. They have become foes. The cranes symbolize freedom, for they soar into the sky to escape imprisonment and death.
Megan Donnelly: The recurring tragedies of Korean fratricide are evident in both stories "The Cruel City" and "Cranes." In "Cruel City," an egocentric shopkeeper takes advantage of his community by selling them birds with clipped wings. He feeds off of their common dreams of freedom and independence for his own profit rather than identifying himself with his people. He is in this sense a "man against himself" in the same way that Korea has in the past been a country against itself.
In 1948 Korea was partitioned along the 38th Parallel. The story "Cranes" is a microcosm of Korean fratricide especially during the Korean War (1950-53). In this story a man must choose between his new found loyalties to democracy and his childhood friend who in a sense represents his own past and culture. Ultimately, his loyalties rest in his friend which suggest Koreans' need to remember their own cultures and families when they seek a post-war identity.
Neena Gill: The two men in the short story, "Cranes," belong to opposing sides of Korea--Songsam from the south and Tokchea from the north. Both have a very similar background, but the 38th parallel divides them. The ideological clash between the two sides has resulted in fratricide. It is not man against man in Korea. It is brother against brother. After all, they belong to one country, one nation. The cranes from the 38th parallel remind Songram and Tokchae of their old friendship. As a pair of Tanjong cranes soar together into the sky, the reader realizes that only unity could bring harmony and peace to Korea.
Brenda Lo: In Chinese literature, cranes symbolize peace and freedom. The heart-warming ending of the short story "Cranes" instils a sense of hope in me. Their flight into the sky shows that the future of Korea will be filled with opportunities.
Jessica Martin: The cranes provide an important image in this story about hope for a united Korea. The childhood memory that Songsam has when he and Tokchae free the crane is acting as a metaphor. As kids, they worked together to free the crane from the government official. Together, they worked toward a common goal and won a victory over their conflict with authority. They were protecting their crane from becoming a "specimen." Then, as adults, they find themselves pitted against each other, almost like specimens themselves in that they are being used and abused by the authority figures who control them. I think Songsam realizes that he is guiding the hunter toward its prey by bringing Tokchae south of the border to be killed.
The cranes, which rest on the 38th Parallel are a symbol of peace. The two boys, as adults, manage to find peace between themselves even as the nation is engaged in fratricide. The author implies that this peace between North and South can also occur on a large scale. As the cranes soar high "into the clear blue autumn sky," there is a picture of unity and hope for peace in the future.
Derrick Coy: "Cranes," by Hwang Sunwon, is a touching story of friendship, which is rekindled by the two characters' reflection on their childhood. Once Songsam and Tokchae freed a crane they had captured as a toy, and it flew away with another crane that a man from Seoul tried to shoot. Their flight to freedom inspires Songsam to give the same chance to himself and his friend.
Illustration by Julie Shim