Study Guide

Gil in The Orphan Master's Son

By Adam Johnson

Advertisement - Guide continues below


Although Gil appears only briefly at the beginning of the narrative, he's a crucial part of Jun Do's education. It's through Gil that Jun Do learns about the "reward system," something that allows him to exercise a tiny bit of self-determination in his life. He learns from Gil that there is something called language school, which is the ticket to a life of freedom at sea for Jun Do—and to a visit to the U.S., which changes everything for him.

But Gil is more than just a source of information; he's also an eye-opener for Jun Do in another way. He's the first person to warn Jun Do that good citizens—even favored citizens—finish last: "I've tasted beef and ostrich. I've seen Titanic and been on the internet ten different times. And yeah, there's karaoke. Every week there's an empty table where a family used to sit but now they're gone, no mention of them, and the songs they used to sing are missing from the machine" (35).

Gil's bid for freedom in Japan is brought about by a lifetime of having his eyes opened for him. But it brings out a bitterness in Jun Do that we didn't know existed (he doesn't want to know that there are prosperous places in the world) by showing him that life in North Korea is lacking.

When Jun Do apprehends Gil at a bar in Japan, Gil tries to make him see the insanity of wanting to participate in North Korean society: "'The question isn't whether or not I'll come with you,' Gil said, 'It's why you're not coming with me'" (35). As he sits on the boat, as captive as the opera singer he's brutalized and kidnapped, Gil gives Jun Do one more gift: awareness of the monster he's becoming.

Gil tells Officer So not to worry about the art of brutality dying off: "'Jun do knows how to do it now,' he said. 'He'll replace you, and they'll send you to a camp so you never talk about this business'" (37). Jun Do can't comprehend yet the wisdom of Gil's words.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...