Study Guide

The Senator in The Orphan Master's Son

By Adam Johnson

The Senator

Don't Mess with Texas

The Senator, like several other characters in the novel, doesn't get a name. He doesn't really need one, since he's meant to represent the American persona as perceived by foreign eyes. He also plays up the Southern American stereotype, taking the North Korean contingent to a Western shop for boots, setting up a weed-whacking session, and teaching them about branding and barbecue.

He also exhibits characteristic American candor, which borders on vulgarity—like when he tells Dr. Song he lost his virginity in the back seat where Song is currently sitting. He also has a habit of taking the moral high road. He handles the tiger meat situation with ease, for example, defusing the tension with some Texas charm: "'Let's see if I can take charge of that... Tiger sounds like a man's business'" (139).

Nevertheless, when he finds out that the North Koreans have been playing him, the Senator gives Jun Do a major tongue-lashing: "'Is there any end to you people?... How dumb do you think we are? I know you've got the backward-nation card to play and the I'll-get-thrown-in-the-gulag excuse. But coming all this way to pretend to be a nobody? Why tell that cockamamie shark story?'" (159).

We'll excuse the fact that the Senator uses the word "cockamamie" for a moment. Aside from that, he's shooting straight from the hip, confronting Jun Do with an openness that Jun Do's not used to seeing. Jun Do hardly knows what to do, though he manages to keep his composure.

In the end, the Senator is a fair player. With the help of Wanda's camera set-up, he's able to read between the lines and comprehend what Jun Do needs. His willingness to step up and take Sun Moon and her children on, especially under such scary circumstances, makes up for any of his slightly ridiculous, stereotypical traits.