First They Killed My Father

First They Killed My Father Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A week later the man says he has found a family for the children. Loung is excited to be part of a family again, and even happier when she sees that it is the family of the palm tree boy who once waved to her outside the child soldiers camp. His father—now their foster father—is welcoming and warm at first, but quickly switches to a business-like tone. He says that the girls will help care for his three young daughters and elderly mother, while Kim will help him fish and hunt. Loung understands that this is only “a family of convenience.”
Family is so important to Loung that she hopes to recreate what the Khmer Rouge destroyed; unfortunately, she quickly learns that a bond as powerful as that between a family is not something so easily replaced.
Themes
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
Their new foster mother greets the children coldly and instructs them to sleep in the corner of their hut. One afternoon Loung sees her digging through their things and pulling out Ma’s prized silk shirt, which she had hidden under her black uniform when the Khmer Rouge soldiers burned their clothes. The mother puts it on, but sensing the children’s anger, declares it ugly and tosses it back. Paof, their fourteen-year-old foster brother, is the only one who is kind, though his lingering looks at Loung make her uncomfortable. One day he attacks her in the woods; she says she will tell, but he says no one will believe her and Loung knows he is right. She vows to stay away from him.
Loung quickly learns that mothers are not interchangeable, and her and her siblings’ lives continue to be filled with pain and cruelty. Paof’s assertion that no one will believe Loung—or will say she brought it on herself—reflects the sexist attitudes towards women that have been present throughout the book. Though clearly expressed in different extremes, Paof’s denial of Loung’s dignity and bodily autonomy is undergirded by the same thinking that led the Khmer Rouge to abduct and rape girls.
Themes
Women’s Treatment in Times of War Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Blue quotation bubble icon linking to an important quote associated with this summary and analysis.
While gathering water from a stream one day, Chou and Loung befriend a girl with pretty brown eyes named Pithy. She is the same age as Chou and similarly timid. Pithy’s father was also taken by the Khmer Rouge. She meets them each morning to gather firewood.
Under the Vietnamese, Loung is at least able to start reaching out to other humans besides her family, having less fear of being betrayed by a desperate or starving neighbor.
Themes
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
One such morning Loung forgets their water canteen. When they come across a Vietnamese soldier in the woods, Loung mimes their need for water and the soldier mimes back for Loung to follow him. As he leads Loung further into the woods, she grows nervous. He suddenly screams at her in Vietnamese to lie down, and though she cannot understand the words she observes that his face has turned “dark and mean” like the faces of the Khmer Rouge. He attempts to rape Loung, but she screams angrily and is able to fight him off before running off into the woods. Having heard her screams, Chou and Pithy come running. They carry their firewood back to the base. When Loung thinks she sees the soldier she rushes toward him for revenge, only to cut her bare foot on a shard of glass.
Tension grows from the moment the soldier leads Loung away from her friends. Still only a child, Loung’s graphic description of her attempted rape—including her repulsion at seeing a man’s genitals for the first time—underscore the moment’s brutality and horror. It is clear  that no matter who is in charge—the Lon Nol government, the Khmer Rouge, or now the Vietnamese—women are often disrespected, abused, and dismissed. The misogyny of the Khmer Rouge was not unique, it appears, and as such will not be stamped out with its defeat.
Themes
Women’s Treatment in Times of War Theme Icon
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Upon returning home, their foster mother scolds Loung and Chou for bringing back too little wood and calls Loung stupid and lazy for cutting her foot. When Loung defends herself, the foster mother says she is nothing and will grow up to be a hooker. Despite her bravado, Loung fears she has no future. She hears Pa’s words in her head telling her she is precious, and reflects that she will amount to something because of everything her father taught her.
Though the spirited Loung briefly doubts herself, Pa once again is a source of strength for his daughter even in death. Loung’s assertion that she will survive—and thrive—because of what Pa taught her is a step towards accepting the past and moving towards her future.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Blue quotation bubble icon linking to an important quote associated with this summary and analysis.