First They Killed My Father

First They Killed My Father Themes

Themes and Colors
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
Women’s Treatment in Times of War Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in First They Killed My Father, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

First They Killed My Father is Loung Ung’s unflinching first-person account of the 1975 to 1979 Cambodian Genocide, during which the Khmer Rouge regime killed an estimated two million citizens through forced labor, starvation, and indiscriminate execution. Loung is just five years old when the Khmer Rouge takes control of the country, but she makes it through its reign of terror through a combination of luck, personal strength, and the unwavering support of her…

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The Khmer Rouge is a deeply paranoid, xenophobic, racist regime that seeks to rid Cambodia of all outside influence and so-called “ethnic poison.” As a child with no broader understanding of the historical or political issues that lead to the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime, Loung Ung frequently questions the rationale behind the Angkar’s brutality, only to find that there really is none. In this way, her innocence highlights the absurdity of hating…

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Women faced unique horrors—including rape and forced marriage to soldiers—under the Khmer Rouge, who viewed them as weak and disposable. Even prior to the takeover, however, many Cambodian women were subjected to sexist societal expectations and unfair treatment. Writing from the perspective of a young girl, Loung’s story is particularly attuned to the ways in which women suffer before, during, and after times of war. Whatever group controls Cambodia—the Lon Nol government, the…

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As a young child at the start of the Khmer Rouge takeover, Loung has little else in her life apart from her parents and six siblings. Family is Loung’s entire world, and as the horror of the next four years steals her innocence, ties between family members are the only things unbroken by the Angkar.

In the beginning of the story, Loung emphasizes that her relationships with her siblings in Phnom Penh are fairly…

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