A Long Way Gone

by Ishmael Beah

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Why were the cassette tapes important to Ishmael in A Long Way Gone?

Quick answer:

Ishmael's cassette tapes of rap music are important to him because they are a symbol of his lost childhood. They also serve a practical function, as, on two separate occasions, villagers who capture Beah decide to release him unharmed after seeing the tapes and realizing he is just a boy.

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At the beginning of A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah's hometown, Mogbwemo, is attacked by rebel forces. Beah himself avoids the attack because he is participating in a talent show held in a neighboring town at the time. At this point, Beah's main interests in life are rap music and dancing. His cassette tapes remain a reminder of this trouble-free time, even when he no longer has any means of playing them.

Aside from this personal meaning and symbolism, the tapes prove practically useful to Beah. In Chapter 6, Beah recalls a time when he and his friends were captured by a group of villagers who believed they were rebels and were going to kill them. When they saw the cassette tapes, however, the villagers changed their minds, realizing that their captives were only children. The village chief asked about their background and found a boy of their own age who used to live in the town where the talent show took place and recognized them. A similar incident occurs in Chapter 9. Beah is going to be thrown into the sea by another group of villagers when the chief sees the rap cassettes and insists on listening to them. Intrigued by the music, he asks Beah to show him the dances that accompany it and then lets him go free.

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