First They Killed My Father

First They Killed My Father Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Keav has been in Kong Cha Lat, the teen work camp, for six months when another girl arrives to tell Ma and Pa that she is very sick and in the hospital. Pa cannot leave work, but Ma is given permission to go.
The fact that Pa is not allowed to immediately see his daughter underscores the Khmer Rouge’s extreme cruelty and disregard for its citizens.
Themes
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
Back at the hut, Loung imagines what it must be like for Keav at the camp: in barracks with eighty other girls, she has no privacy and can never show her emotions for fear of seeming weak. Once beautiful, her skin is ruined from the sun. Her legs look like sticks while her stomach is swollen with hunger. She has never held a boy’s hand. She works long hours doing the backbreaking labor of planting rice in silence every day, and misses her family greatly. Her stomach refuses to settle, and she begins to have terrible diarrhea. Only after multiple requests does her supervisor allow her to go to the makeshift infirmary. There she waits, though she knows there is no medicine and that the Khmer Rouge killed all the doctors.
Loung’s imagining of Keav’s experience makes the overwhelming horror of the Khmer Rouge all the more personal. The fact that there are no doctors reflects the short-sightedness of the regime’s killing of any foreigners or intellectuals.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
Ma returns and says Keav has dysentery and will not live through the night. She was so weak she did not recognize Ma at first, and then kept asking for Pa. No one at the hospital cleaned her, so she lies on dirty sheets. Pa gets permission to bring Keav back to the village, and he and Ma go to get her while Loung again imagines her eldest sister’s mindset: she must be happy to see Ma but frustrated to be trapped in such a weak body that can no longer move. She wants only to see Pa one more time and is fully of “pure fear.” Ma and Pa return and say Keav had died before they reached the hospital, but the nurse had already thrown her body out to make room for the next patient. The nurse says they are lucky: a dozen other girls also died that day from food poisoning, but they could not locate their parents.
In Loung’s mind, Keav’s final hours are utterly horrific, again underscoring the incredible cruelty of the Khmer Rouge. What’s more, her fate is hardly unique. The fact that the nurses dispose of her body so quickly and comment on many other girls getting food poisoning emphasizes that Keav’s death is simply one of many—and each victim was as unique and valuable as Keav.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
Loung asks Chou what happens when people die. Chou responds that they sleep for three days before moving on to be reincarnated, and Loung says she hopes Keav won’t be reincarnated here. Loung creates a fantasy to dull the pain, imagining that Pa reached Keav before she died and that she passed peacefully in his arms. Loung wonders if Ma, who often butted heads with Keav in life, regrets their fights about music and clothing now. Pa says they must go on as if nothing has happened if they are to survive.
This scene further solidifies the bond between Loung and Chou. Family represents the ultimate source of comfort for Loung, which is why she fantasizes about Pa being able to reach Keav. The fact that the Ungs must continue on reveals how the Khmer Rouge has robbed them of their right to grieve; survival requires the suppression of even the most basic human emotions.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
Get the entire First They Killed My Father LitChart as a printable PDF.
First they killed my father.pdf.medium