Study Guide

The American Rower (a.k.a. Allison Jensen) in The Orphan Master's Son

The American Rower (a.k.a. Allison Jensen)

Symbol of a Nation

Much like the Nikes that wash up near the Junma, Allison Jensen becomes symbolic of all that is American: strength, confidence (even arrogance), individualism, self-determination. As the crew of the Junma listens to the ongoing saga of the rowers as they cross the Pacific, they engage in speculation about what the ladies must be like. The Second Mate has perhaps the most unique point of view:

"To row around the world," the Second Mate said. "Only a sexy woman would do that. It's so pointless and arrogant. Only sexy Americans would think the world was something to defeat." (44)

The Second Mate's opinion adds to the humor of the work, but he's only half kidding in his assessment of the rower's persona. He's talking smack to impress his mates, though it's clear that the idea of a strong woman ignites his imagination. In all fairness to the Second Mate, Allison does row in the nude, and she does think she can navigate the vast Pacific Ocean with her eyes closed. She's doing her best to reinforce the stereotype of the arrogant American.

Trouble in Paradise

Jun Do is clearly obsessed with Jensen and feels sympathy with her because she, like him, is acquainted with the darkness. He feels that by following her story he somehow is participating in it with her, encouraging her through his thoughts and hoping for the best.

When she broadcasts her distress call, Jun Do is helpless to come to her aid. For one thing, he can't respond to distress calls specifically because he's an intelligence officer—not a fisherman. He also clings to a thought that he has no reason to put any faith in: "Someone will save you, he thought. If you just hold tight long enough, someone's bound to" (76). What on earth would make Jun Do think this? Is it because he's in denial? Or because Allison is American?

Damsels in Distress

Allison remains captive in the Dear Leader's bunker, transcribing all of his written works by hand. In the process, she manages to catch his fancy and leave him praying that Stockholm syndrome is really a thing. Yeah, he wants her to fall in love with her captor.

Allison encounters Sun Moon toward the end of her captivity, and the actress can't help but see a thread connecting the rower with everyone else who is at the whim of the Dear Leader—perhaps especially the women in his life. Sun Moon asks Impostor Ga a pointed question: "What if a woman had to sleep in the same bed as her captor?... What if she depended on her captor for every necessity—food, cigarettes, clothes—and he could indulge or deprive her at his whim?" (340).

Ga thinks of himself as the liberator of both Allison and Sun Moon, but in essence, the actress has got it right: no matter how much she might feel for Impostor Ga, she really is still dependent on him to survive. Both she and Allison require his intercession to get them out of their current situations, even if they are both sexy and resilient.

Catching a Break

As spoiled and arrogant as the Dear Leader may think the American rower is, she's really been through a lot. When Jun Do meets her and gets the real story about what happened on the sea, it's clear that Allison has had no role in her current situation. Like Jun Do and Sun Moon and many others touched by the Kim regime, Allison is powerless.

But she is American, and that makes all the difference. Her story ends well, because her story matters. For Americans, the individual is more important than the national narrative. In fact, individual stories often dictate the story of that nation. And so it is that the Texan Senator and his crew gallop in to save her, risking much for one citizen.