A Long Way Gone

by Ishmael Beah

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In A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah pays a lot of attention to the natural world. How does he incorporate references to or descriptions of nature into his narrative?

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In Chapter Eight, Ishmael is on the run after a rebel attack destroys the village of Kamator and scatters the remaining villagers who manage to escape execution.

As Ishmael makes his way west, he finds himself in the middle of a thick forest. Ishmael describes his natural surroundings, highlighting his incredible solitude amidst the starkness of the wild. During his time in this lonely forest, he comes across a snake, at home in its surroundings, but nevertheless a danger to him if he neglects to stay alert. This mention of the snake is significant; it foreshadows the later revelation in Chapter Sixteen that Ishmael's nickname during his time as a child soldier was "Green Snake."

He was given the nickname because he would situate himself "in the most advantageous and sneaky position and would take out a whole village from under the tiniest shrub without being noticed." In Chapter Sixteen, we learn that Ishmael's lieutenant actually complimented him about his ability to be as deceptive and deadly as a green snake.

In Chapter Eight, Ishmael also portrays nature in a nurturing light. When Ishmael discovers a yellow-red lemon-shaped fruit, he is initially afraid to taste it. However, when he see birds feasting on the fruit, he decides that he will take his chances and try to mitigate his hunger by partaking of nature's offering. Ishmael ends up eating at least twelve pieces of the strangely satisfying fruit. When his hunger is satiated, he begins to remember how his grandfather used to make concoctions from medicinal leaves and barks from areas surrounding the coffee farms at his village. One particular concoction so strengthened his mental focus that he was able to absorb and retain knowledge at an incredible rate when he was in school.

Ishmael credits his grandfather's herbal concoction for his "excellent photographic memory." So, by utilizing visual, gustatory (taste), and tactile imagery, as well as a flashback, the author manages to establish the fact that the nurturing and nourishing qualities of nature are eternal or long-lasting.

Ishmael again uses a flashback when he describes his encounter with the wild pigs in the forest. This time, however, the flashback takes us back to his grandmother's story about the dangers of wild pigs. On the surface, the flashbacks incorporate the contradictory elements of nature (both treacherous as well as nurturing) into the story, but on a deeper level, the flashbacks also highlight what Ishmael's life was like before he became a hardened child soldier. In Chapter Eight, the author's references to nature highlights his humanity before he descends into savagery in later chapters.


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