A Long Way Gone

by Ishmael Beah

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What symbols can you identify in a Long Way Gone?What theme do each of these symbols represent? Also, how are each of these symbols used to emphasize the central theme of oppression/freedom? The main thing I need help with are the first 2 parts.

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Ishmael Beah's memoir is a chilling account of his days as a child soldier and his struggle to return from a personal hell. His story is presented through the description of his three worlds: his past, his present, and his dreams.

These days I live in three worlds: my dreams, and the experiences of my new life, which triggers memories from the past"(Beah 20).

What makes his story so vivid is his use of imagery and symbolism, juxtaposing violent images with childhood dreams, as he describes his "three worlds."

In chapter one, Beah discusses a conversation he had with his grandmother surrounding words that he stills remembers as an adult:  "We must strive to be like a moon" being good and on one's best behavior for happiness in life.  When Beah looks at the moon, even in his present "world", he sees the faces in the moon reminding him of his grandmother's counsel and is a reminder of his childhood.

Early in the memoir, Beah describes the chaotic scene of rebel attack.  A van is being followed by a stream of fleeing villagers, one is a woman with a baby on her back. Beah tragically notices that the baby is filled with bullet holes. He realizes that all is lost, and this object of innocence symbolizes that no one is exempt from the evils of war.

Hip-Hop music, symbolic of American lifestyle and freedom, provides Beah with freedom on many levels.  It provided him freedom of expression as a young child untouched by war, but ultimately provided him with his survival as if it hadn't been for his cassettes and hip-hop dress, he wouldn't have been given the opportunity to live.

In chapter two, Beah recalls a dream in which he pushed a wheelbarrow carrying a dead body wrapped in a white sheet.  White, symbolic for purity and innocence, and more troubling, when he pushes this sheet aside, he sees his own face.  His dreams, his hopes now dead, are thus symbolic of his fear.

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