First They Killed My Father

First They Killed My Father Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Met Bong tells the children at Loung’s camp that the monstrous Youns have invaded, adding that they are raping women and killing men. She also declares Pol Pot all powerful, and Loung is confused as to why they are taught to fear the Youns if they can so easily defeat them. Mortars explode in the distance throughout the night, until one lands at the camp and lights the girls’ sleeping hut on fire. An injured girl screams for help as the others rush out, and then reaches her hand to Loung. Realizing she is too small to carry the girl, Loung leaves her behind as the hut collapses in flame. Girls run from the blazing camp, joining a mob of traffic as those from other camps do the same. Loung reflects that it is like leaving Phnom Penh again, but this time she is alone.
Loung again is able to cut through to the hypocrisy and absurdity at the heart of the Khmer Rouge’s paranoid, racist propaganda. When she leaves the injured girl behind in the hut, she is being forced to make yet another horrible choice in order to survive. Though the rush of people feels to her like leaving Phnom Penh, she is an entirely different person than she was before the Khmer Rouge takeover.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
Suddenly Kim grabs Loung’s shoulder. He is with Chou, having run to her camp when the explosions started and then continued toward Loung’s. Kim takes the lead, seeming so mature that Loung forgets he is only fourteen years old. They follow the huge crowd through the night, until Kim eventually leads them off the road. They reach an abandoned village, left in such a hurry that there are clothes, pots, and rice left behind. There are also two chickens, which Kim kills by bashing their heads against a stone well. Chou prepares the birds. As she eats, Loung thinks of how Ma was beaten when she tried to get chicken for Geak.
The reunion with her siblings is a moment of catharsis for Loung, who only a moment before had felt more alone than ever. Even as war has forever changed her siblings, their bond remains intact. Loung, Kim, and Chou are markedly more self-sufficient and prepared for this march than they were when leaving Phnom Penh, but thoughts of Ma emphasize that they have lost far more than they have gained.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
The children rejoin the mob of people and walk until night. When they rest, Loung overhears people cursing Pol Pot’s name and discussing the Khmer Rouge’s defeat by the Youns. Loung thinks of how Met Bong said the Khmer Rouge were much stronger than the Youns, reflecting that this was another of Pol Pot’s lies. Loung is too young to understand politics or Pol Pot’s motivations, but she knows that if the Youns had invaded sooner her family members might have survived. That night Loung sees the clouds transform into a mass of skulls overhead, and feels as though her body is decomposing into the dirt.
Loung’s lack of broader political understanding allows her to yet again identify the absurdity and hypocrisy at the heart of the Khmer Rouge. Despite ostensibly being free, her visions of skulls and decomposition represent thoughts of death and trauma, and reveal how the scars of life under the Khmer Rouge will not so quickly heal.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
Neither Kim nor Chou mention Ma and Geak, so Loung assumes they know they are dead. Kim says they will walk to Pursat City to wait for their brothers, though they have not heard from them in more than a year. It is an implicit rule that they do not talk about family, knowing it will only hurt one another.
Not discussing family here is a kindness the siblings show one another. Despite the odds, the continued strength of the bond between family means they are intent on finding their remaining older brothers.
Themes
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
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After days of walking, three men in “green clothes with funny round cone-shaped hats” appear before the crowd. Loung realizes they are Youns, and is surprised at how “remarkably human” they look, given all the monstrous tales about them from Met Bong. In fact, with their light skin, they look like Ma. The crowd is anxious, but to its surprise one of the Youns greets them in Khmer, smiles, and says there is a refugee camp in Pursat City.
Loung’s observation of the Vietnamese’s “human” appearance reflects the fact that they are just that: human. This makes the outsized hatred by the Khmer Rouge seem all the more ridiculous and ignorant.
Themes
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Youns patrol the refugee camp with guns, but also pat children on the head and flirt with the women. Loung overhears people saying that the Youns are there to protect them, having marched into Cambodia three weeks earlier and defeated Pol Pot. They say Pol Pot had provoked invasion by massacring Vietnamese border villages in what he viewed as a preemptive strike. The Youn army was far better trained and had more weapons, however, and easily defeated the Khmer Rouge.
Though the Vietnamese are meant to protect people like Loung, their armed patrols echo those of the Khmer Rouge and foreshadow some of the ways in which they will behave like those they have defeated. The explanation of their invasion, meanwhile, further highlights how untrue the propaganda about the Khmer Rouge’s might really was.
Themes
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
Loung wishes there were an adult to care for them, but knows they are on their own now. The siblings set up camp with a group of orphans. Kim rations rice and fishes each day in the nearby river, but soon the camp become overcrowded and the river too polluted. Loung cries for her brother, knowing how hard it must be for him to come back each night unable to provide for his sisters. On the verge of again starving to death, Kim asks a nearby family if they can stay with them. The father refuses, saying they already have too many mouths to feed. Feeling guilty, Kim searches for a family that will take the three children in.
Kim is once again thrust into the role of head of household despite still being a child, and again shows deep devotion to his family. Survival in the camp proves nearly as difficult as it was under the Khmer Rouge, revealing that being liberated did not free the Ungs from hardship. Family has been an important theme throughout the book, and Loung continues to try to fill the hole created by the Khmer Rouge.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon