Study Guide

Sun Moon in The Orphan Master's Son

By Adam Johnson

Sun Moon

Lucky Star?

Sun Moon? Adam Johnson could not have found a more elevated name for his stunner of an actress. The name certainly seems to suit her ethereal beauty and transcendent persona. Her power on the screen is such that even the miserable are transfixed by her:

The inmates sat on upended pieces of firewood that they'd beaten free of ice, and this was his first look at her, a woman luminous with beauty who plunges into darkness and simple won't seem to return...the waves build and break, the patients in the infirmary weakly moan as their blood-collection bags fill, and still Sun Moon will not surface. He wrings his hands at the loss of her, all the prisoners do, and even though she eventually surfaces, they all know that for the rest of the movie she will have that power over them. (191-192)

She's got them in thrall—and the Dear Leader, too, who has entered into a silent feud with the man who dared to bargain for her hand in marriage. Commander Ga risks everything, including his life, to take the lovely prize away from Kim Jong Il. But, apparently, she's totally worth it.

Beneath the Surface

When Jun Do emerges from the prison camp wearing Commander Ga's uniform, his first thought is to get to Sun Moon. He wants to begin a blissful life with the woman from the movies, the one who sustained him through his time in captivity. But when we first see her, she's less than impressive. In fact, she's a bit disgusting:

She wore a loose house robe, under which her breasts swung free. He'd seen such a house robe only once before, in Texas, hanging in the bath of his guest room. That robe was white and fluffy, while Sun Moon's was matted and stained with old sauces. She was without makeup, and her hair was down, falling across her shoulders. (212-213)

In fact, Sun Moon appears to be melodramatic and a little nasty (she "lolls" in the grass and has snot running down her face a little later on). This is not what we'd come to expect from the darling pet of the Dear Leader, the lady who has the nicest house in Pyongyang.

It becomes clear that Sun Moon's position in society is as precarious as everyone else's: it depends on Kim Jong Il's whims, and just at the moment, the wind isn't favorable for her.

And yet, Sun Moon also seems to be everything that Jun Do is not: privileged, happy, blissfully unaware of the misery all around her. She acts indignant when starving people steal flowers off he graves of the martyrs, and her reaction disgusts Jun Do/Commander Ga. It's only after he forces her to eat a flower at a party in order to understand what it means to be hungry that the truth about Sun Moon begins to surface.

Intimacy

Jun Do/Commander Ga begins to make some observations about Sun Moon that fill in the blanks about her early life. As he begins to get "intimate" with her, he tells her what he sees: "...whether you grew up a yangban or not, you didn't grow up with a bed. You probably slept as a child on a small cot, and though you've never spoken of siblings, you probably reached out to touch the brother or sister asleep in the next one." (372)

Suddenly, Sun Moon's earlier behavior has some context. She's not truly spoiled. Like Jun Do, who asserted that he wasn't an orphan, Sun Moon has pushed aside the details of a truly difficult and unhappy youth in order to achieve some kind of happiness in the present.

Her relationship with the Dear Leader, while advantageous, wasn't exactly a simple lucky break. As the Interrogator will say later, she's had to exchange one identity—life with a loving but starving mother—for another, which lacks personal freedom (391).

Now that Jun Do/Commander Ga is around to stir up these memories, Sun Moon has to go through the process of recreating her inner life. Her encounter with Casablanca helps her to realize that her life and work can't continue as before.

Partly, it's because her inner artist has been offended. She hates the way she's been made to actin bad movies: "'My whole life is a lie,' she said through tears. 'Every last gesture. To think I acted in color, every garish detail captured in color'" (306). But it's also because she realizes that the world is a bigger place and that there is something better out there. There might even be a place where the two halves of her life can come together.

True Love?

You might be questioning Sun Moon's motives when it comes to Jun Do/Commander Ga. Does she really feel love for this impostor? Or is she using him as her Rick, to get a "letter of transit" out of a land of misery and professional restriction?

We can't claim to have a window into anyone's heart, but it does seem that Sun Moon has a certain attachment to her new husband. The fact that she eventually calls him "husband" at all with any feeling is, perhaps, a mark in her favor. She does also think of him when she thinks of her plans for the future and America:

"When you say, get us out, do you mean us, does that include me?"

She pulled him closer. "You are my husband," she said. "And I am your wife. That means us." (307)

While her panic that Jun Do/Commander Ga might stay behind in North Korea might be a result of her fears about her own self-preservation, we'd like to think that her actions and words are coming straight from the heart—and not out of a script of her own making.