Study Guide

The Orphan Master's Son Transformation

By Adam Johnson

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Change is not for the weak of heart in The Orphan Master's Son. In this world, when we talk about transformation, we're not talking about touchy-feely kind personal improvement. Nearly all personal transformation in the North Korea of this novel happens through heavy suffering. Whether it comes about from the loss of an entire family, from the necessity of doing the unthinkable to survive, or from the effects of torture, the purchase of a new identity is psychologically and physically expensive.

Questions About Transformation

  1. How does the North Korean state use stories to transform its citizens' lives?
  2. According to the Interrogator, what is the purpose of his version of torture/interrogation? How is it different from that of the Pubyok?
  3. Why do you think Johnson tells us at the end of Part I that "from this point forward nothing further is known of the citizen called Pak Jun Do" when we know that his story actually continues?
  4. Why does Comrade Buc tell the Interrogator and crew that Sun Moon "turned into a bird and flew away" rather than simply say that she defected?

Chew on This

The allegory of the "fatherly bear" emphasizes the necessity of surrendering personal identity in service to the state.

Q-Kee does not undergo a radical transformation by the end of her narrative: she just becomes more herself.

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