A Long Way Gone

by Ishmael Beah

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 823

Learning From the Experiences of Others

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At the end of his memoir, Beah recalls a story that he heard many times as a boy. In the story, a hunter prepares to shoot a monkey but the monkey warns the hunter that if he shoots, his mother will die, but if he does not shoot, his father will die. The storyteller would then ask the audience, “What would you do if you were the hunter?” Beah recalls that no one would ever answer the question for fear of their parents. He, however, silently resolved that although he loved his mother, he “would shoot the monkey so that it would no longer have the chance to put other hunters in the same predicament.” This anecdote serves as a thematic lens for the entire memoir and posits Beah as a voice for child soldiers around the world. Certainly we can assume that Beah would not have wanted to become a child soldier during his life, just like the hunter in the story would not have wanted his mother to die after shooting the monkey. However, through this experience comes the opportunity for educating people around the world to the plight of child soldiers; and possibly through Beah’s story, members of the global community will become concerned, educated, and involved in eradicating children’s forced participation in warfare.

Power in the Unity of Friendship

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Along the way, Beah and his friends learn the power in the unity of friendship. He begins his flight with a group of local friends, but he is separated from these boys.  He is afraid to be alone, and along the way, he meets other boys who are in the same situation. He distrusts them at first as they distrust him; however, they all soon learn the strength that may be developed in a group. During the journey, Beah considers his friends his family because they are all he has left. He travels with groups of boys for safety and companionship. After Beah is taken to the rehabilitation hospital by UNICEF, he continues to see his friends and other residents of the hospital as the only people who understand the life that he has led. Beah’s final journey to New York to live with Laura Simms indicates that the bond of friendship that he has made with her is powerful enough to save his life.

The Art of Survival and Resilience to Suffering

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Latest answer posted April 4, 2020, 7:04 pm (UTC)

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During Beah’s flight from his home village Mogbwemo, he encounters many situations that test his resiliency and instinct to survive. Beah and his friends are on constant alert and are terrified of running into soldiers from the rebel army. However, they manage to use their instincts to escape danger on more than one occasion. And in the end, Beah is proof that children wracked by war can be rehabilitated.

There Is Always Hope

Throughout his journey, Beah is able to maintain a sense of hope that is mostly centered on the desire to be reunited with his family. When he and his friends meet Gasemu, he is thrilled at the prospect of seeing his family once again. Beah’s devastation at finding the hut burned thrusts him into a state of despair. But as he is rehabilitated, he realizes the devastating effects that the war has had on him, and he rediscovers the love of family after moving to his uncle’s home once he leaves the hospital.

A Long Way Gone

The title of Beah’s memoir holds thematic significance; it characterizes the nature of the journey Beah has taken. The lessons and values of a soldier are considerably different from the lessons and values of his family. His adolescent life of dancing to hip-hop music was replaced with abusing drugs and alcohol and killing without conscience. He was “a long way gone” from the life he previously led. Furthermore, after Beah was taken in by UNICEF and rehabilitated, he was given the opportunity to travel to New York to attend a United Nations conference on the realities of children in warfare. Beah never dreamed that he would have an opportunity such as this, yet he accepted it with honor. During his stay in New York, he was not prepared for the harsh northeastern winter. He recalls with humor that he did not even have a proper coat to keep warm. Again, Beah was “a long way gone” from his native country and warm climate. Finally, Beah was able to escape Sierra Leone after the rebel army infiltrates the capital, and he found refuge in the home of Laura Simms in New York. She sent him money to travel and became a mother to him when he arrived. Beah went on to study at Oberlin College, become an active participant in several NGOs, and write his memoir. He was “a long way gone” from the fields of bloodshed in which he was once forced to participate.

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