The Horrifying Reality of War in Ishmael Beah's Novel A Long Way Gone

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“A Long Way Gone” written by author Ishmael Beah is a book about a young boy named Ishmael who went through a lot of early teenage trauma because of a war that was happening in his home country. The author wrote this book about his experience in this civil war. He was orphaned by the civil war, and was forced to go from town to town with people he wasn’t close to. He becomes a child soldier, stripped of his innocence and childhood. This book shows the horrifying reality of war, and the effect it has on individuals.

“Being in a group of six boys was not to our advantage… People were terrified of boys our age. Some had heard rumors about young boys being forced by rebels to kill their families and burn their villages.” This quote relates to the theme of how the war led to the mistreatment of children. Ishmael, when the Sierra Leone Army helped “saved” him was turned into a ruthless killer because the Lieutenant of the army used the fact that the Rebels army killed their parents and that they should get revenge on the rebels by killing as many as they can, “They have lost everything that makes them human. They do not deserve to live. That is why we must kill every single one of them. Think of it as destroying a great evil. It is the highest service you can perform for your country.” This shows how the Lieutenant was being manipulative and taking advantage of the children’s suffering and making them into monsters who there weren’t ever supposed to be.

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Not only is this an outrageous state of which the war goes to, but it is a change in humanity and children shouldn’t be fighting in a war and dying. This is the cruel reality of war, forcing anyone the government deems useful to sacrifice parts of their life to serve their purpose. In addition, the way the author uses the word “forced” and “terrified” shows the negative connotation that the author uses and the theme of children fighting in war which is portrayed throughout the novel. Moreover, it is really inhumane because children at such a young age shouldn’t be having to be terrified about losing their lives when basically they already lost everything and are separated from his/her family.

“Under those stars and sky I used to hear stories, but now it seemed as if it was the sky that was telling us a story as its stars fell, violently colliding with each other. The moon hid behind clouds to avoid seeing what was happening.” This quote shows the motif of the moon, which represented a model for good behavior. His grandmother used to point towards the moon, as it makes people happy. However, this quote shows the stars invisible, which is the effect the war has on children. They are stripped of their childhood, family life, friends, and the overall quality of life. There is a direct analogy, as the author says the moon was blocked by thick clouds, it symbolizes that his childhood was “blocked” by the terrors of war.

“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.”

At the end of “A Long Way Gone”, the main protagonist and author Ishmael Beah escapes Sierra Leone and goes to neighboring Guinea to seek refuge from the civil war that he so desperately wanted to escape. Eventually, Ishmael Beah would find his way out of West Africa and to the States and live a new and better life. However, just before this event takes place, Ishmael Beah was invited by the United Nations to talk upon and share his personal life stories with people in New York City. This gives Ishmael Beah much insight into the significance and unmeasurable value of sharing and storytelling his experiences and hardships. Specifically here in Ishmael Beah’s case is preventing other children from suffering the horrors, struggles and effects of war. The connecting moment of this ending portion of the text is the series of events in between Ishmael Beah’s talk for the United Nations in New York City and his escape to Guinea and later, the United States.

This event is when Ishmael Beah returns to Sierra Leone to live with his extended family/uncle in Freetown… only for the war and devastation to catch up with him. In this moment, Ishmael is struggling to control himself and his mental state is deteriorating as he has had experiences with this violence and savagery. To top it all off, Ishmael’s uncle Tommy also has passed away leaving Ishmael alone and nowhere to go but away from the battle and chaos. This moment is very like earlier moments went Ishmael was a soldier and he sees his friends’ lifeless bodies. The only difference is that Ishmael now has changed and is now able to contain his instability and soldiering self. In the face of the mob, he is reminded of how he embraced violence and warfare in his past in order to survive.

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