In The Orphan Master's Son, does Johnson offer something similar to what appears in a more straightforward ethnography like those written by Fernea and Turnbull? Can you see a relationship between Johnson's project and those of Fernea and Turnbull? If so, what?

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An ethnography is a rich qualitative study of a culture that aims to provide "thick description"--that is, a detailed account of everyday life in that culture. The aim of the anthropologist or other author of the ethnography is not only to describe the culture but also to understand it and how its people provide "webs of meaning," or the meanings they make of their experiences.

Fernea and Turnbull, in accounts such as Guests of the Sheik, provide a detailed account of life in an Iraqi village in the 1950s. Elizabeth Fernea lives as the local women do. For example, she learns that although she would like to go to the market and live independently as a western woman does, she is not allowed to do so (page 12). By living this type of life, she comes to understand the way local women feel in their everyday existences and comes to know their intimate details, such as that "A woman's jewelry is her insurance against disaster" (page 33). Only by living among the local people does she come to understand these realities.

Similarly, while Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son is a novel, Johnson also provides these types of ethnographic details about life in North Korea. In describing Jun Do's youth, for example, the author writes, "And then in the year Juche 85, the floods came. Three weeks of rain, yet the loudspeakers said nothing of terraces collapsing, earth dams giving, villages cascading into one another" (page 8). The relationship between Johnson's narrative and a more traditional ethnography is that Johnson provides details about the everyday lives of the people in North Korea, including the famines they face, the political repression they are subject to, and their lack of awareness of what happens outside their country. The similarity between his novel and more traditional ethnography is that they both try to convey the ways in which people construct meaning and understand their realities and they both use cultural relativism, which is when someone tries to understand another culture on its own terms.

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