First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers Metaphors and Similes
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Written by Anna Erickson
Simile - Lost Hope and Invincibility
“If they cannot find us, they cannot kill us; her words stab my heart like a thousand daggers.”
Loung Ung takes advantage of this simile in an attempt to denote the atrocious pain she is feeling after the death of her mother and sister. She employs it in conjunction with the element of personification, furthering the aspect of imagery and intimacy that the reader experiences when comprehending this event. By comparing her mother’s words to daggers, Ung effectively conveys the agony and betrayal she feels as the Khymer Rouge brutally destroyed the hope of safety as well as the sense of of invincibility that the statement once held.
Metaphor - Forced Maturation
“Although he is only twelve, his eyes look of an old man.”
The Ung family is being forced to split up as they realize that their group of nine is far too large to travel unnoticed, and Loung Ung uses this metaphor to describe her older brother right before it is time for Kim to depart onto on “his own path.” Kim is mandated to abandon the comfort and protection of his family, and survive on his own while the callous Khymer Rouge is in power - all at the drastically young age of twelve. Although he is innocent and young, Kim and Loung realize what this ensues, and Kim understands that he must be grown-up, then and there. He has experienced far more brutality and pain than the average twelve year old; his past and current circumstances forcing him to mature into what one would consider to be equivalent of an of an old man, with years of experience and ache behind him. After looking into his eyes, this is how Loung depicts Kim’s soul - though his body is simply that of a twelve year old boy.
Metaphor - At the Mercy of Memories
“Their faces flood my consciousness...”
In this metaphor, Ung compares her family’s faces to a flood that consumes her conscience. Floods can be characterized as strong, unstoppable, sudden and possibly unanticipated. Thus, by comparing their faces to that of a flood, Ung highlights the lack of control she feels, and allows for a focus on the abruptness and density in which the memories appear.
Simile - Abrupt Pain
“My heart feels as if an animal has clawed it out. I try to muster a smile, so I can send my sister on her way with a final picture of hope.”
In this crafty simile, Ung does an excellent job of expressing the degree of torment and misery she feels as she says goodbye to her sister. She contrasts the purposefully violent analogy with that of a smile, and a yearning for hope. This contradiction accentuates the immense effort Loung is exerting in order to put up the facade of a sanguine face, desiring for her sister to capture a glimpse of optimism to take along with her.
Metaphor - Unrealized Value
“You are a diamond in the rough and with a little polishing, you will shine.”
In the context of the novel, this metaphor holds a great deal of emotional weight. Early on in the text, Ung’s father compares her to a coarse and rigid diamond whose true capacity is hidden by these qualities. Pa expresses that Loung has considerable hidden talent and potential that she herself has not yet tapped into, and nor has it been recognized by many others. This is analogous to a diamond, as it is unrecognizable for its value when it is in its raw stage. Later in the work, after Loung is reprimanded by her foster mother, she recollected this sweet metaphor and contends that she possesses “the one thing [she] needs to make something of [her]self one day: [she] everything [her] Pa gave [her.]
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When we first meet her, Loung is a young and immature little girl, who relies on her parents for everthing. After being sent to the labor camps, we see her become a strong, resilient, and industrious young girl.
Study Guide for First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers
First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers study guide contains a biography of Loung Ung, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.