First They Killed My Father

Pa Character Analysis

Loung’s father is a generous man with dark skin, a stocky build, warm eyes, and a broad smile. Born in a rural village in 1931, Pa joined a Buddhist monastic order at the age of eighteen but left upon falling in love with Ma. Ma’s parents did not approve of the match, citing Pa’s skin color and poverty at the time, so the two eloped. While Ma often scolds Loung for her adventurous behavior, Pa praises his daughter as clever and brave. He and Loung often have conversations on the family’s balcony in Phnom Penh, where he tells her stories and, at one point, tries to explain what bombs are. Having been conscripted into the army of the Lon Nol government, Pa works as a military police captain in Phnom Penh—a position that puts his family in jeopardy under the Khmer Rouge, which is intent on exterminating anyone associated with the former government. As such, Pa orders Loung and her siblings to pretend they are peasants from the countryside. Pa does whatever he can to protect his family and is a loving, steady, yet increasingly somber presence in Loung’s life. He is eventually taken by Khmer Rouge soldiers and executed. Loung imagines his death in horrific detail, picturing him being brutally beaten by a hammer but finding comfort in thoughts of his child before he dies. Loung continues to speak to Pa after his death, and to find strength in the lessons he taught her. When her foster mother tells Loung she will amount to nothing, for example, Loung thinks back to Pa calling her a diamond in the rough. Before boarding a plane for America, Loung dreams of Pa’s spirit saying he will always be with her. With this assurance, she is able to leave Cambodia behind.

Pa Quotes in First They Killed My Father

The First They Killed My Father quotes below are all either spoken by Pa or refer to Pa . 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

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 2 Quotes

The explosion from the bomb in our trashcan knocked down the walls of our kitchen, but luckily no one was hurt. The police never found out who put the bomb there. My heart is sick at the thought that someone actually tried to hurt Pa. If only these new people in the city could understand that Pa is a very nice man, someone who's always willing to help others, they would not want to hurt him.

Related Characters: Loung Ung (speaker), Pa (speaker)
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 8 Quotes

“The Khmer Rouge are executing people perceived to be a threat against the Angkar. This new country has no law or order. City people are killed for no reason. Anyone can be viewed as a threat to the Angkar—former civil servants, monks, doctors, nurses, artists, teachers, students—even people who wear glasses, as the soldiers view this as a sign of intelligence. Anyone the Khmer Rouge believes has the power to lead a rebellion will be killed. We have to be extremely careful, but if we keep moving to different villages, we may stay safe.”

Related Characters: Pa (speaker)
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 9 Quotes

"Capitalists should be shot and killed," someone yells from the crowd, glaring at us. Another villager walks over and spits at Pa's feet. Pa's shoulders droop low as he holds his palms together in a gesture of greeting. I cower at the edge of the truck, my heart beating wildly, afraid to get off. Fearing that they might spit at me, I avoid their eyes. They look very mean, like hungry tigers ready to pounce on us. Their black eyes stare at me, full of contempt. I don’t understand why they are looking at me as if I am a strange animal, when in reality we look very much the same.

Related Characters: Loung Ung (speaker), Pa
Page Number: 57
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 16 Quotes

In Phnom Penh, Pa once told me the Youns are just like us but with whiter skin and smaller noses. However, Met Bong describes the Youns as savages who are bent on taking over our country and our people. I do not know what to believe. The only world I know beyond this camp is the one Met Bong describes to me. Sitting in the dark, I find myself starting to believe her message about the enemies.

Related Characters: Loung Ung (speaker), Pa , Met Bong
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 21 Quotes

"No one knows how precious you are. You are a diamond in the rough and with a little polishing, you will shine," Pa whispers softly. His gentle words bring a small smile to my lips. The mother may not give me the love I crave, but I know what it feels like to be loved. Pa loved me and believed in me. With that little reminder from him, I know the foster mother is wrong about me. I do possess the one thing I need to make something of myself one day: I have everything my Pa gave me.

Related Characters: Loung Ung (speaker), Pa (speaker), Foster mother
Page Number: 183
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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Pa Character Timeline in First They Killed My Father

The timeline below shows where the character Pa 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
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...family’s food comes and Loung adds two whole red chilies to her bowl, reflecting that Pa told her that eating spicy food is good for people in hot climates because it... (full context)
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Pa is five-foot-five with a stocky frame and a warm smile that reaches his eyes. He... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Ung Family, April 1975
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At night, Loung enjoys sitting with Pa on their balcony and looking at the French colonial buildings alongside dingy houses. The two... (full context)
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Ma once told Loung that when she was two, someone tried to kill Pa because he was a government official and put a bomb in their trash can. Loung... (full context)
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Loung describes Pa’s past. He was born in a rural village in 1931. His father died when Pa... (full context)
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Meng, Loung’s eighteen-year-old brother, joins them on the balcony. Meng, like Pa, is soft spoken and kind. He was valedictorian of his class and plans to go... (full context)
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...attends school with Chou and Kim six days a week and does homework on Sundays. Pa insists that the way to get ahead is to learn languages, and the children study... (full context)
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Pa takes the children swimming after school on Sundays at “the club.” There Loung sees her... (full context)
Chapter 3: Takeover, April 17, 1975
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Loung is playing hopscotch in the street on a Thursday afternoon because Pa has kept all the children home from school. Suddenly mud-covered trucks roll through the streets,... (full context)
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...are middle class. Kim picks Loung up and instead plops her in the back of Pa’s rundown pickup truck, and the family drives off through the crowded streets of the city. (full context)
Chapter 4: Evacuation, April 1975
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The next morning more Khmer Rouge soldiers yell at them to keep moving. Pa says that the soldiers kicked everyone out of the city, including from schools and hospitals.... (full context)
Chapter 5: Seven-Day Walk, April 1975
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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.... (full context)
Chapter 6: Krang Truop, April 1975
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...cadre, and villagers must now ask permission to leave or have relatives stay with them. Pa gets permission for the family to stay. (full context)
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...Uncle Leang was brave to beg the Khmer Rouge chief to let the family stay. Pa tells the children that they must stay away from any city people who might recognize... (full context)
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Pa explains that Cambodia gained independence from France in 1953, but many people viewed the monarchy—led... (full context)
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...Loung wakes up after the others, who are already hard at work on the farm. Pa says the Angkar have abolished schools and markets and banned money and items like watches... (full context)
Chapter 7: Waiting Station, July 1975
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...family again 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... (full context)
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...instructs them to wait for people to come and bring them back to their village. Pa tells Loung they had to leave Krang Truop because new people from Phnom Penh had... (full context)
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The soldiers have not taken them to Battambang as they were supposed to, but Pa says that they cannot argue. Kim tells Loung she must look after herself and not... (full context)
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...writing something on a piece of paper. Once the truck is full they set off. Pa tells Loung that the men in black pants are representatives from rural villages. They were... (full context)
Chapter 8: Anlungthmor, July 1975
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...coming to kill her; Kim and Chou also get sick and have the same nightmares. Pa says they must be careful what they eat, because there are no doctors or medicines... (full context)
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...to the village and are often moved from place to place by the Khmer Rouge. Pa, Khouy, and Meng must do manual labor every day. Food becomes increasingly scarce, and they... (full context)
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...of newcomers. With their lighter skin and lack of farming knowledge, the Ungs stand out. Pa begs the village chief to relocate them. He also says that the Khmer Rouge have... (full context)
Chapter 9: Ro Leap, November 1975
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...outfits of the Khmer Rouge. Someone shouts that capitalists should be killed and spits at Pa’s feet. Loung can’t understand why the villagers look at them so angrily when they are... (full context)
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That evening the chief arrives. He is Pa’s height and has sharp, coal-dark eyes. The chief tells the new arrivals that they must... (full context)
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The family eats the communal dinner of rice and fish, but they are still hungry. Pa arranges for Kim to work as an errand boy at the chief’s house. The chief’s... (full context)
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...overworked, few become pregnant. Those that do often miscarry, and most newborns die within days. Pa says the country will have a missing generation of children, and vows that Geak will... (full context)
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...the seven man-made wonders of the world. Loung remembers marveling at the sacred temples with Pa, who said it was where the gods live. The Khmer Rouge mutilate it with bullets... (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 the likelihood... (full context)
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...black uniform and thinning hair, “now the joy of beauty is gone from her life.” Pa says it is good that the family is separated; Kim later explains to Loung that... (full context)
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...him not to come back. Without his leftovers, Loung worries that the family will starve. Pa suspects Kim’s firing has to do with Pol Pot, a name that has begun to... (full context)
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...to people who have never left the village all “white-skinned Asians look alike.” That evening Pa says that the Angkar dreams of ruling over an empire that extends into neighboring Thailand,... (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... (full context)
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...Loung is now six. As she gnaws on charcoal to ease her hunger, she recalls Pa’s stories of how children in other countries get birthday cakes. (full context)
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Pa remains friendly with the chief and gets extra rice in exchange for Ma’s jewelry. This... (full context)
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...makes her bleed. Ma immediately grows worried and begins to cry. Loung has never seen Pa angry, but now he scolds Ma, saying she could have blinded Loung, and that a... (full context)
Chapter 12: Keav, August 1976
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...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, but Ma... (full context)
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...was so weak she did not recognize Ma at first, and then kept asking for Pa. No one at the hospital cleaned her, so she lies on dirty sheets. Pa gets... (full context)
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...Keav won’t be reincarnated here. Loung creates a fantasy to dull the pain, imagining that Pa reached Keav before she died and that she passed peacefully in his arms. Loung wonders... (full context)
Chapter 13: Pa, December 1976
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...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... (full context)
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...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.... (full context)
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The remaining family waits for Pa all of the next day, but he does not return. The sunset is beautiful, which... (full context)
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Despite knowing Pa will not return, the family continues to sit outside in the darkness until Ma sends... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 14: Ma’s Little Monkey, April 1977
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...has passed, making Loung seven, Geak five, Chou ten, and Kim twelve. In keeping with Pa’s request, Kim acts as the head of the household. Ma no longer calls him “monkey.”... (full context)
Chapter 15: Leaving Home, May 1977
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...Chou do not fight, and Geak is increasingly withdrawn. Loung is deeply sad but knows Pa would not want her to give up. (full context)
Chapter 16: Child Soldiers, August 1977
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...traitors who speak 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... (full context)
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...Met Bong tells the girls to take loaded guns and shoot anything that moves. Though Pa once told Loung that the Youns were just like them, she now does not know... (full context)
Chapter 18: The Last Gathering, May 1978
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...the Khmer Rouge some things are better left unsaid. No one brings up Keav or Pa either, choosing to keep their memories private. (full context)
Chapter 19: The Walls Crumble, November 1978
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...back to Ro Leap, feeling as though Ma and Geak are calling out to her. Pa once told Loung she had extrasensory perception, which she now fears is true. When she... (full context)
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...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 kneel and Ma... (full context)
Chapter 21: The First Foster Family, January 1979
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 23: Khmer Rouge Attack, February 1979
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...the tents, looking strong but hardened. He places his hand on Loung’s head just as Pa used to do. (full context)
Chapter 24: The Execution, March 1979
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...sixties or seventies, smashes his head with a hammer. Loung wonders if this is how Pa died. The woman hits him again and again, spattering Loung with blood. The younger woman... (full context)
Chapter 25: Back to Bat Deng, April 1979
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...handle the journey now, she reflects that her heart will never get over losing Ma, Pa, Keav, and Geak. (full context)
Chapter 26: From Cambodia to Vietnam, October 1979
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...letting the passengers return, everyone must line up and give them something. Eang gives Loung Pa’s jade Buddha pendant so she will have something to give them. The pirates ransack the... (full context)
Chapter 27: Lam Sing Refugee Camp, February 1980
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That night Loung thinks of Pa as she drifts off to sleep, worrying that his spirit will not be able to... (full context)