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Beah's A Long Way Gone: Themes & Discussion

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  • 0:03 Background on 'A Long…
  • 1:02 Themes Explored in the Novel
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah takes us into the depths of the Sierra Leone Civil War, which began in 1991. We will look at themes centered around loss of innocence, loss of family, the all pervasive damages of war, and the search for hope.

Background on A Long Way Gone

Imagine being ripped from your family, home, and everything you know to be turned into a gun-toting soldier when you are just a child?

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah takes a look into a world filled with chaos and war, murder and survival. This memoir takes us into the heart of the Sierra Leone Civil War, which began in 1991 and was an attempt by the rebel armies to gain control of the diamond mines from the government troops. This bitter and bloody war decimated villages and conscripted the lives of children. The Revolutionary United Front pushed back the government forces, gaining control of many mines.

After the rebels attacked his village and killed his family when he was twelve, Beah and a small band of boys took to the woods where they wandered aimlessly for months, scraping by, barely managing an existence, and living in fear. Life changed drastically when these young boys were recruited into the Sierra Leone Army.

Themes Explored in the Novel

The themes in this book are many and help the reader make sense of what happened to Beah. The reader is shown what it means to lose your identity, what war can do to damage an individual and a country, how a loss of family can affect everything, and this loss shows us what stands out as important as a means of survival, and finally there is hope.

The theme of loss of identity plays a significant role in the events of Beah's experiences. He was brainwashed, and his identity was taken from him. It was because his identity was lost that it was easier to kill others. The generals broke Beah and the other boys down so they could rebuild them. They created boys who would kill, but this could not be managed if their identities remained intact.

We see loss of identity at work when the generals indoctrinate the boys into believing that the rebels are less than human and that they don't deserve to live. This creates a loss of identity for both the rebels and the boys as they evolve from boys into soldiers.

Beah's loss of identity was sealed when he was handed an AK-47 and when drugs became a part of his world. Beah recounts in stark, vivid terms walking through villages killing everyone in sight, or killing the wounded that had been left behind. We see that he has become something quite different than the boy who loved hip-hop and danced around to the music. The general's work is complete; his original self had been completely taken from him.

The theme of loss related to war is seen in many places throughout the story, but one of the greatest damages caused by the war was Beah's realization that he had no place to call home. His sense of security had been ripped from him. The war had broken many parts of his spirit. He did not know fear because he was filled with drugs, which brought a false sense of power.

His loss of self was replaced by rage and violence, and civilization to him ceased to exist. War took so much from these boys who were forced to become soldiers; everything they had seen, everything they had been forced to do left them empty and cold. They were shells of themselves. The war was the work of a few evil men who managed to tear apart a country and leave it devastated.

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