A Long Way Gone

by Ishmael Beah

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What are the thematic statements about family, choice, innocence, and manipulation in A Long Way Gone?

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Family, choice, innocence and manipulation are all important themes in Ishmael Beah’s memoir.

Family is significant as a strong influence in Beah's early life, and their influence gives him strength to recover after his ordeals end. Ishmael presents his relationship with his parents, who are divorced. He and his brother Junior live with their father, who can be stern, and their stepmother, with whom they do not always get along. When they visit their mother and half-brother, her face brightens. His mother takes care not to speak badly of his father. She wants to instill proper respect in Ishmael, even though his father has stopped paying for the boys’s school. Their mother says this about him:

Your father is a good man and he loves you very much. He just seems to attract the wrong stepmothers for you boys

The ability to choose among alternatives is an important component of Beah’s survival. This is shown from an early point in the book. Beah and his friends had already reached Mattru Jong when they learned that Mogbwemo had been attached. They all choose to return home to find their families. However, once they reach his grandmother’s village, they see countless wounded and dead people. Terrified by the evidence of bloodshed, they change their minds. They decide that they cannot go home.

[We] knew that we must return to Mattru Jong. We had seen that Mogbwemo was no longer a place to call home and that our parents couldn’t possibly be there anymore.

Innocence shapes Beah’s experiences because he knew of war secondhand. He was sheltered from war as a child. Until he was twelve years old, Ishmael knew about war only from books, movies, or reports about Liberia. He did not really believe the refugees’s drastic accounts of war in Sierra Leone. In writing the memoir, he looks back on that innocent time.

I thought that some of the stories the passersby told were exaggerated…. My imagination at ten years old didn’t have the capacity to grasp what had taken away the happiness of the refugees.

Manipulation is a key element of the soldiers’s treatment of the civilian population, which contributed to their success. The rebel soldiers use civilians as human shields to increase their chances of avoiding the government forces’s attacks. When the rebels attack Mattru Jong, Beah is among the people who flee the village along the sole escape route. He is terrified by the sound of gunfire and the sudden chaos. The situation worsens when he realizes that the soldiers have started to shoot at people, not just into the air. They are trying to prevent people from leaving town.

One of the main aims of the rebels when they took over a town was to force the civilians to stay with them, especially women and children. This way they could stay longer, as military intervention would be delayed.

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