First They Killed My Father

Ma Character Analysis

Ma, Loung’s mother, was born in China—a fact that Ma says is to thank for her height and porcelain skin. While living in Phnom Penh, the beautiful Ma is very concerned with social proprieties and frequently laments the fact that Loung does not behave more like a young lady. She also clashes with the opinionated Keav about her clothing and music choices—arguments Loung believes Ma must regret upon Keav’s eventual death. Because Ma grew up well off and is not used to hard labor, Loung worries how she will survive after Pa is killed by the Khmer Rouge. Ma proves capable and strong, however, working harder than other villagers to counteract the stigma of having light skin. While working at the riverside one day, Ma sneaks Loung a handful of baby shrimp; theft of food is punishable by death, and this incident grants Loung newfound respect for her mother. Ma also cleverly sews some of her jewelry into the straps of bags before all of their possessions are destroyed by the Khmer Rouge; these jewels will later help Loung and Meng secure passage to Vietnam. Loung initially resents Ma for sending her, Chou, and Kim away from Ro Leap after Pa’s death, but she later grows to understand the strength such an act must have taken. Life in the villages hardens Ma, as it does all of Loung’s family members, but she is still able to find moments of joy in seeing her children. While at the training camp for child soldiers, Loung senses that Ma and her younger sister Geak are calling to her. Loung rushes back to Ro Leap to find Ma’s hut abandoned; another villager informs her that the Khmer Rouge took her the previous day. Loung imagines Ma’s death by firing squad. Loung also thinks often of the red dress Ma once made her for New Year’s.

Ma Quotes in First They Killed My Father

The First They Killed My Father quotes below are all either spoken by Ma or refer to Ma . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Perennial edition of First They Killed My Father published in 2001.
Chapter 1 Quotes

"Don't you ever sit still? You are five years old. You are the most

troublesome child. Why can't you be like your sisters? How will you ever grow up to be a proper young lady?" Ma sighs. Of course I have heard all this before.

It must be hard for her to have a daughter who does not act like a girl, to be so beautiful and have a daughter like me.

Related Characters: Loung Ung (speaker), Ma (speaker)
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:
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Ma saw that he was kind, strong, and handsome, and she eventually fell in love with him. Pa quit the monastery so he could ask her to marry him, and she said yes. However, because Pa is dark-skinned and was very poor, Ma’s parents refused to let them marry.

Related Characters: Loung Ung (speaker), Pa , Ma
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 9 Quotes

My first red dress, the one Ma made for me for the New Year's celebration. I remember Ma taking my measurements, holding the soft chiffon cloth against my body, and asking me if I liked it. "The color looks so pretty on you," she said, "and the chiffon material will keep you cool." Ma made three identical dresses for Chou, Geak, and me. ... I grind my teeth so hard the pain in my throat moves up to my temples. My hands clench in fists; I continue to stare at my dress. I do not see the soldier's hand reach into his pocket and retrieve from it a box of matches. I do not hear his fingers strike a match against the side of the box. The next thing I know the pile of clothes bursts into flames and my red dress melts like plastic in the fire.

Related Characters: Loung Ung (speaker), Ma , Chou, Geak
Related Symbols: Loung’s Red Dress
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 11 Quotes

Ma is proud of her heritage but has to hide it before it proves dangerous to us all. Pa says that the Angkar is obsessed with ethnic cleansing. The Angkar hates anyone who is not true Khmer. The Angkar wants to rid Democratic Kampuchea of other races, deemed the source of evil, corruption, and poison, so that people of the true Khmer heritage can rise to power again. I do not know what ethnic cleansing means. I just know that to protect myself, I often have to rub dirt and charcoal on my skin to look as dark as the base people.

Related Characters: Loung Ung (speaker), Pa , Ma
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 20 Quotes

My breath becomes short and shallow; images of the Youns torturing and killing their victims flash before my eyes. I have never seen a Youn and yet these men look remarkably human. They are the same size as our Khmer men and are similarly built … The Youns look more like Ma than many Khmers. They do not look like the devils Met Bong said they were.

Related Characters: Loung Ung (speaker), Ma , Met Bong
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 24 Quotes

One by one, people return to their homes, leaving me standing there alone, staring at the corpse. My mind plays back images of my parents' and sister's murders. Again my heart tears open as I stand there and wonder how they died. Quickly, I push the sadness away. The slumped over corpse reminds me of Pithy in her mother’s arms. Pithy’s head bled in much the same way. His death will not bring any of them back.

Related Characters: Loung Ung (speaker), Pa , Ma , Keav, Geak, Pithy
Page Number: 207
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 27 Quotes

Then I lift and smooth my dress once again before laying it down carefully, making sure it will not be wrinkled tomorrow. I am sad thinking I have finally replaced the other red dress that the soldier burned. This is my first dress in five years, and tomorrow I will wear it and show off to everyone. Before the giggles can escape my lips, a feeling of sadness pushes them down. Staring at the dress I realize it will never be the dress Ma made for me. They are both gone.

Related Characters: Loung Ung (speaker), Ma , Eang
Related Symbols: Loung’s Red Dress
Page Number: 232
Explanation and Analysis:
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Ma Character Timeline in First They Killed My Father

The timeline below shows where the character Ma appears in First They Killed My Father. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Phnom Penh, April 1975
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
Women’s Treatment in Times of War Theme Icon
...family in a third-floor apartment in the middle of the chaos. She enjoys traveling with Ma via cyclo, a sort of “big wheelchair attached to the front of a bicycle,” as... (full context)
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Women’s Treatment in Times of War Theme Icon
...climates because it makes them drink more water. Loung knocks over a salt shaker and Ma becomes angry once again, pointing out that Loung frequently gets into trouble—such as when she... (full context)
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
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...and a warm smile that reaches his eyes. He was a monk when he met Ma but, smitten by her beauty, left the monastery so they could marry. Because he was... (full context)
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Loung is extremely curious about the world, though her incessant questioning annoys Ma. After she has finished eating, her parents let her leave the table and she buys... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Ung Family, April 1975
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...who live there begging or attempting to sell crafts. Because the family lacks a refrigerator, Ma gets heavily dolled up and then goes to the nearest market every morning to buy... (full context)
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Ma once told Loung that when she was two, someone tried to kill Pa because he... (full context)
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...the ground in front of him to avoid killing living things. After leaving to marry Ma he joined the police force and became a secret agent. Pa left the force for... (full context)
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...younger siblings. Keav, the family’s oldest girl at fourteen, is beautiful but a gossip—a trait Ma does not consider ladylike. Pa has heard stories of people being so discontent that they... (full context)
Chapter 3: Takeover, April 17, 1975
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...idea what is going on. When she returns home, her family is frantically packing, and Ma snaps at her to eat because they have a long journey ahead. Loung reluctantly does... (full context)
Chapter 4: Evacuation, April 1975
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...dry season, and the air is very dry and dusty. The wet season runs from May to October and turns the country into a “green paradise,” but April is the hottest... (full context)
Chapter 5: Seven-Day Walk, April 1975
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 7: Waiting Station, July 1975
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...packing up. With the arrival of new city people who might recognize them, Pa and Ma say it is no longer safe for them in the village and they must leave... (full context)
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Ma calls Loung back and the family boards another truck. Two middle-aged men in black pants... (full context)
Chapter 9: Ro Leap, November 1975
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...out each new family’s clothing. Loung watches in anguish as her beloved red dress, which Ma made her for New Years, is tossed on the pile. She cannot understand why the... (full context)
Chapter 10: Ro Labor Camps, January 1976
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Ma and Pa force Khouy to marry a girl from a nearby village, Laine, to decrease... (full context)
Chapter 11: New Year’s, April 1976
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Pa and Ma worry that malnutrition has stunted Loung’s growth. The Khmer Rouge does not allow New Year’s... (full context)
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...Chong goes “crazy,” speaking to her children as if they are still alive and handing Ma a bowl of earthworms to eat. (full context)
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Ma sewed jewelry into the straps of their bags to hide it from the soldiers in... (full context)
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Pa remains friendly with the chief and gets extra rice in exchange for Ma’s jewelry. This rice keeps the family from starving to death, though they must keep it... (full context)
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
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...constantly fights with Chou. When the weaker Chou finally pushes back, Loung charges at her. Ma throws a coconut shell at Loung to stop her; it hits her head and makes... (full context)
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...communal garden, and Loung knows she has already forgiven her. That night Loung’s anger towards Ma turns to despair as she remembers how beautiful and joyous she was in Phnom Penh,... (full context)
Chapter 12: Keav, August 1976
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...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,... (full context)
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Ma returns and says Keav has dysentery and will not live through the night. She was... (full context)
Chapter 13: Pa, December 1976
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Ma says she will always have hope that Pa is still alive, but Loung refuses to... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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People look down on Ma because of her white skin, but she works hard. One day she takes Loung with... (full context)
Chapter 14: Ma’s Little Monkey, April 1977
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...Kim twelve. In keeping with Pa’s request, Kim acts as the head of the household. Ma no longer calls him “monkey.” Having had a good rainy season, there is plenty of... (full context)
Chapter 15: Leaving Home, May 1977
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...the people they’ve already executed, fearing they will one day rise up to seek revenge. Ma gathers the children to say they must split up and leave her if they are... (full context)
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Loung’s sadness turns to anger as she walks. She thinks Ma is weak, reflecting that the Angkar calls women “weak and dispensable.” Kim leaves them “without... (full context)
Chapter 16: Child Soldiers, August 1977
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...against the Angkar. Suddenly Loung realizes that this must have been why Pa was killed; Ma, too, is against the Angkar, and no one can know. Loung raises her fist and... (full context)
Chapter 17: Gold for Chicken, November 1977
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...lies and says she is visiting Chou and then walks to Ro Leap to see Ma. As she does so, she reflects that she is no longer the scared child who... (full context)
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Ma is excited to see Loung and takes her permission slip, which is simply a piece... (full context)
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Ma tells Loung of attempting to trade her jewelry for some chicken in a nearby village.... (full context)
Chapter 18: The Last Gathering, May 1978
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Loung hears Ma calling to her and thinks she has gone crazy until she sees that Ma, Geak,... (full context)
Chapter 19: The Walls Crumble, November 1978
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Loung feels an overwhelming urge to see Ma, and sneaks away from the camp. She rushes back to Ro Leap, feeling as though... (full context)
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...by Khmer soldiers through muddy fields, along with everyone else deemed traitors to the Angkar. Ma thinks of Pa and wonders if he, too, was this afraid. The soldiers make everyone... (full context)
Chapter 20: The Youn Invasion, January 1979
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
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...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. (full context)
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Neither Kim nor Chou mention Ma and Geak, so Loung assumes they know they are dead. Kim says they will walk... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 21: The First Foster Family, January 1979
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 22: Flying Bullets, February 1979
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...has been cruel to her. She thinks that if only she were taking food to Ma, she would be redeemed of all the wrongs she has committed. (full context)
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Many villagers have begun wearing colorful clothes again. As she does her new foster family’s laundry,... (full context)
Chapter 25: Back to Bat Deng, April 1979
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...better handle the journey now, she reflects that her heart will never get over losing Ma, Pa, Keav, and Geak. (full context)
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...wife, and their sick-looking baby are already there. Loung thinks the wife looks exactly like Ma. Before leaving the next morning, Loung discretely wraps some of her siblings’ cooked rice in... (full context)
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...variety of foods and even books. When she comes to a stall selling pork dumplings, Ma’s favorite food, she grows angry at the fact that if only Ma had held on... (full context)
Chapter 27: Lam Sing Refugee Camp, February 1980
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...dress. Though she is excited about it, it is not the same as the one Ma made, and she is really gone. (full context)