First They Killed My Father

First They Killed My Father Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Khouy and Meng enter a temple to fetch water from its well, but a soldier is guarding it and demands they leave. Others enter the temple anyway, and they hear gunshots. On the third day of walking Loung observes that there haven’t been any American planes in the sky. She is excited because she thinks they can return home as the soldiers said, but that evening Pa tells her that the soldiers lied. Loung sobs from hunger and exhaustion; though they are rationing food, Pa lets her have a ball of sticky rice and takes the pot she is carrying from her. Loung sees that many of the people walking are barefoot, and realizes many are worse off than she is.
The Khmer Rouge soldiers prove even more cruel and also deceitful. The United States did bomb parts of Cambodia during the Vietnam War, but Loung’s observation reveals that the Khmer Rouge’s rationale for forcing people to leave the city was a lie. Pa’s compassion remains strong in the face of terror, and Loung—who was relatively spoiled in Phnom Penh—gains more empathy for those around her.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
On the fourth day, they reach the Khmer Rouge’s military checkpoint in Kom Baul. Soldiers question families before they can pass and insist none lie to the “Angkar,” which Pa says means “the organization” and is the new government. Cambodia was a monarchy until a military coup in 1970 by the Lon Nol democratic government, which had been at war with the Khmer Rouge ever since.
Pa grants context for the Khmer Rouge takeover and reveals the political corruption and instability that helped give rise to the Angkar. The soldiers’ insistence on honesty to the Angkar, meanwhile, suggests the authoritarian nature of the new government.
Themes
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
There is a separate checkpoint line for anyone who worked for the deposed government. Pa says they must pretend to be peasants, and that only he should speak. Loung watches the soldiers empty a man’s bag, and, upon discovering a Lon Nol army uniform, push him away with the butt of a rifle. After many hours the Ungs reach the soldiers. Pa says he works and in a shipping port and Ma says she sells clothes at the market. A soldier digs through all their bags and then clears them to go.
Pa wisely surmises that his association with the former Lon Nol government is dangerous under the Khmer Rouge for both himself and his family, and that they must hide their identities to survive. The fact that another man is revealed as being associated with the Lon Nol government adds tension as the soldier digs through the Ungs’ bags.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
That night Loung dreams she is at a Lunar New Year’s celebration filled with fireworks. When she wakes up, she overhears Ma say that the soldiers opened fire on all the people who worked for the previous government, killing every single one. Keav takes Loung to go to the bathroom in the woods and they stumble across a dead body, which horrifies her.
The stakes under the Khmer Rouge are raised higher still, as soldiers quickly execute anyone with dissenting political opinions. This scene is also the first time Loung has seen a dead body. Her horror here contrasts with the numbness toward violence she will develop throughout the book.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
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The family walks for a sixth day, spurred forward by the soldiers. Many people become ill from heatstroke and dehydration but are forced to keep moving. That night Meng, Khouy, and Kim forage for food and return with some brown sugar, much to Loung’s delight. After dinner Ma leads the girls to the river to bathe and wash their clothes. The next day they see a lone cyclist on the road, and realize it is Ma’s brother Uncle Leang. He gives Ma a package of food and tells Pa that ever since evacuees arrived in his village he has been searching for the family. Later Ma’s oldest brother Uncle Heang arrives with a wagon. Both uncles have always lived in the countryside and as such are considered “uncorrupted model citizens” by the Khmer Rouge. Pa says they will live with them in the village of Krang Truop.
Loung’s description of her family’s long walk highlights the brutality and cruelty of this first attempt by the Khmer Rouge to reshape society. An estimated twenty-thousand Cambodian citizens died during the forced march from Phnom Penh alone. The welcomed arrival of Uncle Leang reflects the book’s theme about the importance of family. His description as a “model citizen,” meanwhile, hints at the Angkar’s hatred for anything associated with the city or the West, and foreshadows the horrific treatment the Ungs will soon experience.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon