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A Long Way Gone: the True Story of Ishmael Beah

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A Long Way Gone: The True Story Of Ishmael Beah

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A Long Way Gone is the true story of Ishmael Beah, he was forced to be a child soldier during a war in Sierra Leone. Ishmael Beah lived a hard life as a kid, even through his teenage years he was still having a hard time surviving. In the book, A Long Way Gone Ishmael Beah uses multiple symbols to represent the overall theme of freedom and oppression. The three symbols he uses to underscore the theme were, the cassette tapes, the moon. and drugs.

Although some may argue that these symbols are all things that just helped Ishmael survive, it is much bigger than just surviving. For Ishmael it was realizing who he was again through these symbols. Realizing that he isn’t a guy who does drugs, he is the guy who loves to rap and create songs, and making sure he remembers his happy past through the moon. Because of this symbols Ishmael didn’t just survived he recovered everything he has lost during his childhood.

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To start, Ishmael Beah carries around rap cassettes before he was forced into the army. The first time Ishmael Beah heard rap music was a big moment for him and in the future, “One evening a music video that consisted of a bunch of young black fellows talking really fast came on the television. The four of us sat there mesmerized by the song, trying to understand what the black fellows were saying.” (Beah. 2) The boys watched the video and from there on they were in love with rap. It was a huge moment of freedom for Ishmael because not only will he need it to help him through the good times, but the there will be a lot of bad times during the war and rap helps him overcome those bad times.

Ishmael a couple of times get mistaken for rebel during the war and rap cassettes help him get out of it. They get caught then the chief searches the boys and finds a cassette tape, he asks one of his men to play it. After hearing the tape he asked Ishmael how does he know this music, and Ishmael says, “I told him that we rapped. He didn't know what rap music was, so I did my best to explain it to him. "It is similar to telling parables, but in the white man's language," I concluded. I also told him that we were dancers and had a group in Mattru Jong, where we used to attend school.” (Beah. 38) After the chief listens to the rap and Ishmael tells them about themselves he realized that the boys are no threat and he lets them go.

The rap music saved them in that situation because it showed the chief they were just innocent little boys. The rap music led them to be free from being captured and saved their lives. When Ishmael joins the army, the rap tapes are burned and so is his childhood, “I took off my old pants, which contained the rap cassettes. As I was putting on my new army shorts, a soldier took my old pants and threw them into a blazing fire that had been set to burn our old belongings. I ran toward the fire, but the cassettes had already started to melt. Tears formed in my eyes, and my lips shook as I turned away.” (Beah. 117) The tapes were burned and also Ishmael’s childhood, all of his music is gone, all because he is forced into being a child soldier. His freedom of having music is taken away and now he is trapped in the world of war. In all these situations, the cassette tapes are proven to underscore Ishmael’s theme of freedom.

To continue, ever since Ishmael was a little boy he always sees the moon as a representation of good behaviour and positivity. “She said that people complain when there is too much sun and it gets unbearably hot, and also when it rains too much or when it is cold. But she said, no one grumbles when the moon shines.” (Beah. 13) Ishmael has grown up hearing many stories about the moon. Family of his believed that their are lessons to be learned from the moon, and to always be like the moon. The moon is always always watching Ishmael making sure he knows there is hope to bring him back to his life before war. “She explained that the adage served to remind people to always be on their best behavior and to be good to others.” (Beah. 13) The quotation is saying that the moon is something people try and model and be good for. The moon is there to remind them of their life before war, and to bring positivity to their bad times. The moon reminds them of the freedom they had and should strive for. After the war, Ishmael looks up at the moon and sees the happy times he has had in his childhood, “Everyone becomes happy and appreciates the moon in their own special way. Children watch their shadows and play in its light, people gather at the square to tell stories and dance through the night. A lot of happy things happen when the moon shines. These are some of the reasons why we should want to be like the moon.” (Beah. 13) Most of Ishmael’s childhood was spent killing people as a soldier, and even with that he can still look at the moon and see happy times, that is very important. All of these quotes about the moon show how important the moon is to Ishmael and when he looks at the moon it shows the freedom he once had, again touching the overall theme of the book, freedom and oppression.

Last of all, like many other soldiers Ishmael relied on drugs to get him through the day. He starts smoking marijuana, when soldiers are out of drugs they steal from towns and communities even if it takes lives. In this process the also forced more children to be soldiers for them, “I took turns at the guarding posts around the village, smoking marijuana and sniffing brown brown, cocaine mixed with gunpowder, which was always spread out on the table, and of course taking more of the white capsules, as I had become addicted to them.” (Beah. 130) Ishmael starts doing these drugs because it makes it easy to kill people without him wanted to kill himself after. The army is shattering Ishmael live with oppression and killing. Ishmael took white capsules to keep him more focused and they wouldn’t let him sleep, “I was sweating, and they threw water on my face and gave me a few white capsules… I stayed up all night and couldn’t sleep for days.” It is unfair that the soldiers were forced into taking these pills and they were treated like animals. They would give them these pills so they would do want they wanted them to do. They haven’t had any drugs because they ran out so the effects of that are, “It had been more than a month, and some of us almost gone through the withdrawal stage, even though there were still instances of vomiting and collapsing at unexpected moments.” The army have gave these kids and soldiers so much drugs that when they haven’t had any for a period of time they suffer from withdrawal effects which is because of the oppression they go through. In all of these instances, it shows how cruel and oppressive the army has been to these soldiers. Ishmael uses drugs to symbolize the many instances where these soldiers have gone through the oppression.

In conclusion, Ishmael has used the three symbols, cassette tapes, the moon, and drugs to underscore the overall theme of the book being freedom and oppression. The cassette tapes kept Ishmael’s freedom but when they were burned all was lost. The moon shows that there was once freedom and constantly reminds you of that, and help you strive for it. And the drugs show the oppression the soldiers had to deal with during the war and how cruel it was. Overall those three symbols are what helps the reader underscore the overall theme of the book.

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