A Long Way Gone

by Ishmael Beah

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 744

Because the circumstances of the civil war and rehabilitation forced Beah to exist in a continual state of transition, his relationships with others were brief, and this is reflected in the memoir. However, Beah describes several people who were instrumental figures in his life, from his parents to his future foster mother, Laura Simms.

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Ishmael Beah

Beah portrays himself as a round character; he is careful to highlight both his virtues and his vices. At the beginning of the memoir, Beah is an average twelve-year-old boy in his village. He enjoys the hip-hop music that has made its way to Africa and he and his friends like to dance. He does not understand the encroaching danger, and his naïveté shelters him from war. After the rebel army invades his home village, Beah sees his character take on many faces. He is a fearful adolescent boy struggling to stay alive; he is one of the nation’s orphaned children looking for family; he is a friend forced to trust those with whom he travels; he is a blood-thirsty soldier praised for his wily tactics; he is a rehabilitated youth trying to find a world in which he will be safe. In the end, Beah recounts his experiences with honesty so that he can share his experiences with the world.

Esther

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Esther is assigned as Beah’s nurse and counselor when he arrives at Benin Home in Kissy Town. Beah is resistant to her at first, yet Esther maintains her friendliness towards him. She makes it a point to let him know that she is always there for him, and one day he decides to open up to her. Esther patiently listens to Beah’s stories of his time in the war and the nightmares that plague him.

Uncle

Beah is released from the rehabilitation hospital into the care of his paternal uncle who came forward to claim Beah as family. Before Beah’s release, his uncle would visit him regularly on weekends to try to develop a bond between himself and his lost nephew. Beah’s uncle has also taken in several other children from his extended family in the hopes of providing them with the familial home that they all needed. Beah immediately likes his uncle’s wife, and he also makes a fast bond with Allie, one of the other boys who lives in the home. As part of this new family and as a result of his uncle's generosity, Beah begins to relearn what it is like to be loved as part of a family.

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Latest answer posted January 15, 2011, 6:19 pm (UTC)

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Laura Simms

Beah meets Laura during his trip to New York to attend a United Nations conference on child abuse. He and his travel companion did not know what to expect from New York, so both are completely unprepared for the harsh cold of winter. Laura comes to their aid by supplying them with winter coats; Beah realized years later that they were women’s coats. Laura appreciates the honesty in Beah’s life story as he does hers. The two form a bond that revolves around storytelling, and this bond calls Beah back to New York to seek refuge.

Parents

Beah’s parents separated when he was young; however, he says that both remained instrumental in his upbringing. Beah remained with his father and stepmother, while his youngest brother was raised by his mother. His parents are approving of each other, and Beah’s mother often reminds him that his father is a good man. Beah is happy that his mother has always been very devoted to raising his little brother, Ibrahim.

Friends

Beah meets various groups of friends during his journey through Sierra Leone. At the beginning of the memoir, Beah’s group of friends includes Mohamed and Talloi. The boys are typical adolescents who practice hip-hop dancing and enjoy a carefree life in their village. Once the village is raided, the boys meet others from neighboring villages and form a new group. Sadly, Beah loses touch with these boys during a raid, and he is cast out on his own. Afterwards, he meets another group of boys, three of whom Beah knew from school. These boys (Alhaji, Saidu, Kanei, Jumah, Musa, and Moriba) take Beah into their group and they travel together even though they are fearful and untrusting of each other. Alhaji remains with Beah for the remainder of the journey through war and rehabilitation, and the two form a strong friendship.

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