Escape from Camp 14

Themes and Colors
Tyranny and the North Korean State Theme Icon
Survival, Self-interest, and Morality Theme Icon
Indoctrination and Brainwashing Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
Activism and Indifference Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Escape from Camp 14, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Blaine Harden’s Escape From Camp 14 is the story of a young man named Shin In Geun, who was born in a North Korean prison camp, and, it’s speculated, became the first person to escape from such a prison camp. Through Shin’s individual story, Harden also studies the modern North Korean state. Since the end of the Korean War in the late 1940s, North Korea has been under the control of the Kim family…

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During his time in a North Korean prison camp, Shin In Geun has one priority: survival. He has a family—a mother, a father, and a brother—but he doesn’t think of them with even the slightest affection. Indeed, he thinks of his mother as his competitor for food. As a result, Shin is completely self-interested: he’ll do whatever it takes to feed himself and stay alive. Through Shin, Escape From Camp 14 studies the difficult choices…

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One of the most important features of life in prison camp is the constant process of indoctrination. The prison guards don’t just terrorize the prisoners; they try to convert the prisoners to the camp’s warped ideology. Prisoners are told again and again that they must not keep any secrets from the guards. They’re also subjected to constant humiliation—euphemistically referred to as “ideological struggle”—which is designed to brainwash them into feeling helpless, alone, and psychologically dependent…

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In the final chapters of Escape From Camp 14, the key theme is guilt. During his time in Camp 14, Shin In Geun has done some things that, on the surface, seem almost unforgiveable: he’s beaten up little children, he’s stolen food from starving people, and he’s ratted out his mother and brother to the prison guards, leading directly to their murder. Because of his constant sense of guilt, Shin has also concealed various…

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Although the majority of Escape From Camp 14 is about Shin In Geun and North Korea in general, the book also studies the way that North Korea is perceived around the world. In particular, it poses a serious question: why haven’t people been more outspoken in their opposition to the North Korean dictatorship in general and North Korean prison camps in particular? In trying to answer this question, Escape From Camp 14 makes some sobering…

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