Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts


Kerry Torpey 

The Khmer Rouge and the Genocide of the Intellectuals

Joshua Ferris and the Individual’s Struggle for Autonomy in American Society

Joshua Ferris’ novels follow the lives of individuals who live in a modernized American society that encourages conformity. The main characters of the novels Then We Came to the End, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, and The Unnamed attempt to strike a balance between maintaining a sense of self and serving as active members of society. Ferris focuses on characters, such as Paul O’Rourke and Tim Farnsworth, who stand outside the crowd because they value individuality over compliance. The intolerance and greed of American society make surviving impossible for the protagonists because they can either be who they are and be ostracized by their peers, or conform to the world around them and live dull, meaningless lives. As Ferris’ characters suffer from this conflict between how they personally define themselves and how society does, society works to morph their perspectives so that they think material wealth is what will make their lives feel complete. The pressure from American society to sacrifice their identities forces the characters to fall into a vacuum of hopelessness and despondency.

In a similar fashion to American society, the Khmer Rouge created a societal system that required uniformity and obedience from its members. Beginning in the 1930s in the Indochina Communist Party, the Communist Party of Kampuchea, which would be dubbed as the Khmer Rouge in 1960, gained the support of the rural poor. On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge took control of the Cambodian government and created their own, which they named Democratic Kampuchea. From the day they gained power to the day of their defeat in 1979, the Khmer Rouge conducted genocide on those they deemed as “enemies” of the government. The Red Khmers viewed intellectuals, who were those who received any form of higher education, specifically as their number one targets. As paranoia of counterrevolution rooted itself deeply in the heart of Brother Number One and leader Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge’s security prisons, executions, and heinous torture tactics resulted in an everlasting and tragic effect on the nation of Cambodia.

Major Works Consulted:

Bergin, Sean. The Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian Genocide. New York: Rosen, 2009.
Ferris, Joshua. Then We Came to the End. New York: Back Bay, 2007.
---. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. New York: Back Bay, 2014.
Kiernan, Ben. The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79. New Haven: Yale UP, 1996.
Photo Credit: “Joshua Ferris.” Interview. March 2014. 23 Feb 2016.