First They Killed My Father

First They Killed My Father Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Four months have passed since Keav’s death. The family is still starving and lives in fear of being outed as supporters of the Lon Nol government. One night Pa whispers to Ma that “they know,” and that they must send the children to orphanage camps where they will change their names to survive.
Loung highlights the constant fear of life under the Khmer Rouge. Pa’s mention of sending the children away reflects yet another painful choice the family must make in order to survive.
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The next night Loung reflects that the world is still beautiful despite their suffering, and wonders if there are gods who will save them. Just then, two men in black appear and ask for Pa, saying they need him to help move a wagon that is stuck in the mud. Understanding that this is the end, Pa says goodbye to Ma inside. Loung can hear her sobbing. Pa then stands tall for the first time and says he is ready to go. Before he leaves he suddenly picks Loung up to squeeze and kiss her as he hasn’t done in a long time. The soldiers say he will be back in the morning, but before he leaves Pa says goodbye to all his children and tells Kim to look after the household.
This is one of the most tragic and poignant scenes of the book, as the title’s promise at last comes to fruition. Loung’s appreciation of the world’s beauty in this moment will contrast with her later resentment of this beauty in the face of her pain. Pa uses his final moments to reaffirm his love for his life and children, reiterating the book’s theme about the unbreakable bonds between family.
Themes
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The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
The remaining family waits for Pa all of the next day, but he does not return. The sunset is beautiful, which makes Loung angry amidst their suffering. She reflects that war has made her full of rage, and that the Angkar have made her “hate so deeply” that she wants to “destroy and kill.”
Loung’s anger at the beauty of the sunset here contrasts with her earlier appreciation of the world’s beauty; what before felt comforting now feels like a mockery of her pain. Loung becomes increasingly fueled by rage—for her, one price of survival is her innocence.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
Despite knowing Pa will not return, the family continues to sit outside in the darkness until Ma sends the children into the hut. Loung hopes Pa died with dignity, and that the soldiers did not torture him. He once told her that monks’ spirits could leave their bodies, and she now imagines leaving her body to look for Pa at the edge of a gruesome mass grave. She sees her spirit wrap her arms around his body before his execution, and believes that he focused on his children’s faces in the moment before his death.
Loung’s vision of Pa’s death again reflects the book’s theme of the bond between family, which can be a source of strength and comfort even in the darkest moments. Loung will continue to imagine Pa’s spirit leaving his body to watch over her throughout the story.
Themes
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After three days Loung understands that Pa must truly be dead. She feels as if she has poison in her stomach and prays to the gods to bring Pa back. She then tells Chou that she will kill Pol Pot. She feels so full of hatred that it scares her and leaves no room for sadness, which would make her want to kill herself to escape. Imagining Pol Pot’s slow, painful death grants her the will to survive.
Just as the Khmer Rouge robbed the family of the right to mourn Keav, so too must Loung repress her grief over Pa’s death. Loung will repeatedly echo this notion—that anger grants her the strength to continue—throughout the book, emphasizing that the cost of survival is her innocence.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Ma says she will always have hope that Pa is still alive, but Loung refuses to allow herself hope. She worries how Ma, who was very dependent on Pa, will get by without his help. That night Loung dreams of him as he was before the war. She reflects that she thought Pa was a god during their trip to Angkor Wat, because many of the stone statues had similar facial features. Everyone must go back to work, and though Ma seems to recover after a month, Loung knows she will never smile again. Geak has stopped growing, causing Loung to feel deeply guilty for stealing the rice earlier.
Pa was a godlike figure to Loung, and his death means she must reckon with the fact that no one can protect her from the horrors of the seemingly all-powerful Khmer Rouge. The fight for survival continues to erode her innocence and even humanity. Loung continues to feel ashamed for the lengths she went in order to sate her hunger.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
Soldiers come to take fathers away more often, always with casual excuses and the promise that they will return the next morning. Loung tries to remember their faces so she can one day come back to kill them. Rumors spread that Pa was made a prisoner and tortured every day until he managed to escape into the mountains. People say he is working to recruit an army to fight the Khmer Rouge, giving Ma hope. But weeks pass, and he never returns. The family continues to depend on Meng and Khouy to bring them extra food, but Khouy gets sick and Meng is kept too busy with work to return to the village.
The horror of the Khmer Rouge is again extended beyond Loung’s family, emphasizing the tragic fact that her story is not even unique. Others’ improbable theories about Pa’s death reflect the depths of their desperation. Though the Khmer Rouge is able to temporarily separate Loung from her siblings, their bond will ultimately remain unbroken.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
People look down on Ma because of her white skin, but she works hard. One day she takes Loung with her to catch shrimp. There are harsh punishments for stealing, but Ma quickly gives Loung a handful of raw baby shrimp to eat, then does the same for herself. Loung is proud of her mother’s strength, and says they “find ways to stay alive.”
Loung again highlights the racial prejudice her family faces under the genocidal Khmer Rouge. Despite Loung’s fears about how Ma will get on without Pa, she proves very capable—underscoring the strength of the human will to survive.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon