Study Guide

The Orphan Master's Son Identity

By Adam Johnson

Identity

In The Orphan Master's Son, Jun Do is introduced to us as a boy without choices. Abused by the Orphan Master and facing a life of hardship, he makes some pretty questionable moral decisions to preserve himself. Like, you know, he sends other boys to their deaths. When depressed by the memories of boys lost, he's all, "What choice did I have?" It's not until Jun Do begins making choices—rather than backing into them—that his inner life blossoms and his identity forms.

It's no coincidence that the development of real relationships plays a critical role in this process. When Jun Do becomes part of the crew and again when he connects with Sun Moon, he sees the importance of self-determination. And ironically, taking on Commander Ga's identity shows Jun Do's desire to create his own life story.

It's also no coincidence that the Interrogator—who has no connection to anyone—literally has no personal identity. Untethered, he begins to doubt even the story of his birth. The Interrogator can hardly be blamed for his predicament. In a place where personal identity morphs to fit the needs of the state, it's kind of miraculous that characters like Jun Do, the Captain, and Comrade Buc learn how to run off script at all. For these characters, the desire to assert their individual desires ultimately outruns their determination to survive.

Questions About Identity

  1. How does life in Kim Jong Il's North Korea affect the development of personal identity for the characters?
  2. How important is Jun Do's identity as an orphan? In what ways does it affect his life, relationships, and choices throughout the book?
  3. In what ways does Sun Moon's persona change throughout the book? Is there anything surprising about the development of her character?
  4. Why does the Interrogator have a hard time writing his own biography?

Chew on This

The Interrogator becomes fascinated with Impostor Ga's story because it is the story of how an individual forges a life outside the guidelines of the state.

Sun Moon never moves past the role of the "Great Actress," even in her decision to defect to the United States.

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