Study Guide

The Orphan Master's Son Politics

By Adam Johnson

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The political life of North Korea revolves entirely around the will and whim of one person: the Dear Leader. Kim Jong Il does his communism Stalin style: he's a total dictator, and in his system, power and wealth are concentrate in a centralized state that has noooo problem terrorizing its citizens to keep control. In The Orphan Master's Son, Johnson gives us a glimpse of what life under such a system can be like, and he shows how an idealistic form of communism can quickly devolve into a totalitarian dystopia.

There's no place at all for the individual in this system, except as that person fulfills the needs of the state. Characters like the Interrogator, who believe in the most idealistic tenets of communism, suffer catastrophic breaks from their society when reality sets in. The truth quite literally destroys them.

Questions About Politics

  1. What does the Interrogator mean when he criticizes the state for "...the ultimate perversion of the communist dream..." (401)?
  2. In what ways are the characters in this novel at odds with the state? In what ways are they complicit in fulfilling the state's agenda?
  3. How is it possible for Jun Do to become Commander Ga? Why does everybody play along?
  4. Why does Jun Do's story about the shark attack fall flat with the Americans? What are the differences between the two political systems that make this story a no-go on American soil?

Chew on This

Jun Do's story of the shark attack fails to impress the American audience because the Americans do not privilege the story over the individual.

Mongnan's vision for the future collapse of the North Korean political system is meant less to motivate Jun Do than to encourage readers that things will change.

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