Escape from Camp 14

Escape from Camp 14 Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After he speaks with intelligence officials, Shin is sent to a “government-run resettlement center” near Seoul. There, he spends time talking with psychologists and teachers. At first, Shin has a fairly easy time adjusting to his new life outside Camp 14. He enjoys taking field trips to Seoul, and he is happy to receive identification papers making him a South Korean citizen. In classes, he learns about how North Korea launched an unprovoked attack on South Korea—the opposite of what generations of North Koreans have been brought up to believe.
The book doesn’t go into much detail about what went on for Shin during his time in the government resettlement center—perhaps because Shin talked to confidential therapists and psychiatrists about his experiences in the camp. However, it’s clear from the passage that Shin began to learn more and more about the North Korean state, and to realize the extent to which it used propaganda to control its citizens.
Themes
Tyranny and the North Korean State Theme Icon
Indoctrination and Brainwashing Theme Icon
After a month in his new home, Shin begins to have nightmares and traumatic flashbacks to the day of his mother’s death. He begins to feel guilty for his role in her murder. Many North Korean defectors go through similar agony, Harden says—they get into fights, sleep badly, and develop paranoia. They find it difficult to trust others since, during their time in North Korea, they were trained to trust no one. Defectors are often dazzled by the wealth and complexity of South Korean life, not to mention the abundance of food.
Psychologists have argued that human beings “advance” to increasingly abstract problems as they take care of all their material needs. For example, Shin only began to experience guilt and self-hatred for his mother’s death after he’d escaped from the camp and attained a measure of control over his food and shelter.
Themes
Guilt Theme Icon
Shin continues to suffer from nightmares as his time in the resettlement center goes on. His physical health is fine, but his mental health is deteriorating. He spends more than two months in a psychiatric hospital, after which his nightmares begin to go away. Shin then begins working in a convenience store. He feels extremely lonely. He tries to locate his uncle, whose defection to South Korea resulted in Shin’s father being sent to Camp 14, but Shin doesn’t have much information on his uncle, and he quickly gives up his search.
Shin felt lost and lonely in his new home—he had no friends or family, and he had nobody with whom he could talk about his experiences in prison camp. As a result, it would seem, he quickly fell into a deep depression.
Themes
Survival, Self-interest, and Morality Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Blue quotation bubble icon linking to an important quote associated with this summary and analysis.
Shin begins keeping a therapeutic diary at the recommendation of his counselor. The counselor encourages Shin to publish his diary, and Shin begins spending time at the Database Center, where he works on converting the diary in a memoir. At the Center, Shin meets human rights activists, who ask him hundreds of questions about his time in Camp 14. At first, some human rights activists refuse to believe that Shin has ever been at Camp 14—nobody has ever escaped from a North Korean labor camp and lived to tell about it.
In retrospect, Shin’s account of his early life is full of lies and distortions of the truth, which he only admitted much later. Even so, readers should be sympathetic to Shin: like so many trauma victims, he concealed the truth to protect himself from reliving his traumatic past.
Themes
Guilt Theme Icon
Activism and Indifference Theme Icon
Get the entire Escape from Camp 14 LitChart as a printable PDF.
Escape from camp 14.pdf.medium
In 2008, Shin is invited to tour the United States and speak about his experiences at Camp 14. During his travels, he learns a huge amount about North Korean history and culture, including the history of the Kim family dictatorship. He reads voraciously but refuses to ask his counselors or advisers for help. And although he travels around the world, he seems curiously unexcited by his new life.
In a way, this chapter marks the end of Shin’s story of survival: he “succeeded” in in escaping from the prison camp and finding food and shelter in the outside world. But of course, this is only the beginning of Shin’s new struggle—to make sense of his own violent past and come to terms with his actions.
Themes
Survival, Self-interest, and Morality Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
Activism and Indifference Theme Icon