Study Guide

Wanda in The Orphan Master's Son

By Adam Johnson

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An Important Friendship

Wanda peeks into the narrative only twice, but her presence really stirs things up for Jun Do. The two begin their acquaintance in Texas, when she drops this philosophical bomb on him: "'Do you feel free?' she asked. She cocked her head. 'Do you know what free feels like?'" (154).

It's such a typical question for an American to ask; perhaps Wanda feels that she has the corner on the freedom market because she lives in the largest democracy in the world. Jun Do turns her question on its head, asking her whether she really understands freedom the way she thinks she does. For Jun Do, understanding freedom goes hand in hand with experiencing confinement.

Say what?

Though Wanda has a better sense of what Jun Do's life must be like in North Korea (more, say, than the Senator's wife does, anyway), she's learning more and more just from observing and interacting with Jun Do. She sees the marks on his body (though she misidentifies him by his tattoo) and can read his history on his skin.

When Jun Do gives her his list of kidnap victims, it confirms for her what she probably already knows about North Korea. but it also expands what she thinks she knows about its people. Jun Do has the opportunity to tell her that he doesn't want to be the person she thinks he is—that is, a brutal kidnapper.

An Emotional Education

Jun Do learns a lot from his short visit to the U.S. and even picks up a thing or two directly from Wanda. For one thing, he learns that Americans have really cool gadgets, like cameras that can take secret pictures and send them winging across the world via satellite. More importantly, he learns about selfies and what it means to be in the picture.

When Wanda jokes with Jun Do about his stilted pose in the pic, she introduces him to a most important concept—intimacy: "'You know, close,' she said. 'When two people share everything, when there are no secrets between them'" (156). No, Jun Do doesn't know—it's literally a foreign concept for him. But he's absolutely hooked. Thanks to Wanda, Jun Do has found his purpose in life.

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