“A Long Way Gone’’ is an eventful novel that describes significant events in the life of Ishmael Beah. Having lost his parents at a tender age, the young boy had to live without his parents. The story revolves around a war-torn Sierra Leone, and the young boy had to survive in this war-ravaged nation. Major events in his life are described in the novel with extensive use of symbolism, flashbacks, metaphors and figurative language to drive the various themes home. The book takes the reader on a journey where a young boy gets to the army at the age of thirteen years and later changes for the better. Before becoming a brutal killer and a hard drug addict, Ishmael was a young pop star who had passion in rap music. He however went through major events that made him lose his boyhood but at last he worked hard to get his life back again.
Regaining Lost Boyhood
At the age of thirteen years, Beah was introduced to the army and became a ruthless killer. He was very proud of his exploits and never at one time that he wanted to leave this behavior. Nevertheless, there are significant events that lead to regaining of his lost boyhood. One of the major events that marked the route to gaining lost boyhood is the rehabilitation tie at Benin home. In the novel, Beah and Alhaji are handed over to UNICEF by Lieutenant Jabati. The rehabilitation process takes place at Benin home and by this time they are still in soldier mood. In the home, the boys fight with other refugee children and some death cases are reported. It is also during this rehabilitation process that Beah and his fellow soldiers suffer from withdrawal symptoms as a result of increased drug abuse.
The friendly workers at Benin home are instrumental in helping the boys regain their lost boyhood. A gift of the Walkman and rap tapes, from Nurse Esther, and other hospitable actions by the workers were signs of respect to the boys. The rap cassettes help the young boy remind his early years when he was fond of rap music before introduction to soldier life. This marks a beginning where the boys open up about their time at war. Tape and music from Esther are symbolic and is a representation of innocence. Beah had a hard time living free of drug influence, but the workers at Benin home were helpful in assisting the boy adapt o the new environment. The Benin home had helped Beah regain his lost childhood. Ishmael bids farewell to his friend Alhaji as he leaves Benin home, who salutes him while whispering, “Goodbye, squad leader” but Ishmael could not reply. This is a clear indication that he was completely out of his ruthless past.
Another major event in the novel that explains the route to regaining the lost boyhood is evident in chapter 20 of the book. At this point, Ishmael and other children of war move to New York to speak at the United Nations. This is a crucial event where Beah finds other children who had suffered just like he did and still survived. It is in New York where Beah interacted with other children from different countries and who had suffered the same measure of terror and humiliation. The environment offered Ishmael an opportunity to experience life in a violence free country.
In New York, Ishmael meets Laura Simms. She was a storyteller who helped children with their presentations. In his stay in New York, Beah had a strong connection with this story teller and was instrumental in helping him regain his lost boyhood. Ishmael decides to flee his war-torn country and live with Laura in New York. The trip to New York was an essential step towards regaining the lost boyhood in the case of Ishmael. It laid the foundation for his future life in New York and genesis of hope to once a hopeless kid. This trip helped Beah in appreciating his life as well as the life of others. He learns the importance of sharing his experiences and measures of preventing reoccurrence of such horror events.
Another event that help Ishmael regain his lost boyhood is the re-union with family. There is an instance where Beah is sent to live with Uncle Tommy and others in Freetown. This new found connection was essential and Ishmael strived to ensure it is sustained. Beah realizes that violence was not a solution and learns to forgive and manage anger. At the end, Ishmael decides to teach others about the dangers associated with violence especially to young children. The regained innocence is also evident when Ishmael returns to Sierra Leone just to find a coup by RUF ousting the civilian government. Despite the death of his uncle, Ishmael decides to escape to the neighboring country Guinea before shifting to the United States. This is a clear indication that Beah had transformed to a better person free of revenge and anger. The phrase “I joined the army to avenge the deaths of my family and to survive, but I’ve come to learn that if I am going to take revenge, in that process I will kill another person whose family will want revenge; then revenge and revenge and revenge will never come to an end…” is a clear indication of reformed Ishmael.
Beah, Ishmael (2006). A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. New York: Sarah Crichton Books.
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