A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

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What is the significance of the title A Long Way Gone?

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The title of Beah's memoir A Long Way Gone refers to the rocky journey that Beah has taken as a former child soldier.  He is forced into the army so that he can survive, and the lessons that he learns as a soldier are strikingly different from the values that his parents tried to instill in him when he was a child.  As a soldier, he learns how to kill without conscience, and he spends most of his days dazed by the effects of alcohol...

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shannonspivey1014 | Student

Once Sierra Leone's civil war arrives at his village's threshold, Ishmael Beah is forced into a harrowing journey. This journey not only takes him a long way from home and all things familiar, but a long way from who he knew himself to be. Beah's new reality is fighting to survive. As he and his friends travel from village to village in search of food, refuge, and news of family, every step takes him further from the simple life he once knew—his former life was a long way gone.

While on the run from the rebel army, Beah experiences countless atrocities which begin to change him. His travel companion, Saidu, sums it up well:"Every time people come at us with the intention of killing us, I close my eyes and wait for death. Even though I am still alive, I feel like each time I accept death, part of me dies. Very soon I will completely die and all that will be left is my empty body walking with you" (chapter 10). Beah's incorporation of Saidu's poignant thought that his "self" is being killed piece by piece reflects Beah's realization that he, too, is deteriorating.

Once the rebels catch up with him, Beah feels he has no choice but to fight back as a boy soldier for the Sierra Leone Armed Forces. Beah learns to kill and pillage, the exact actions that robbed him of everything he held dear. He notes that the cycle of doing drugs, watching violent movies for inspiration, and going on raids become his new norm.

When UNICEF steps in, Beah is one of the lucky few boys taken to a rehabilitation center in Freetown. Beah slowly makes progress by opening up about the pain and guilt now carved into his being. His lengthy rehabilitation illustrates how much he had transformed—his former self was a long way gone.