Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
The book I had the enjoyment of reading was A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. This intriguing read pulls the reader into a life of destruction and chaos as the author and protagonist, Beah, outlines his life as a refugee of the Sierra Leone war. From the first page this book had me hooked due to its detailed first person experience. The book follows the course of Beah’s life throughout the war and truly inspired me to be hopeful in difficult situations. There are numerous lessons, good ones and bad ones, we can learn from this work of art. Despite Beah’s upsetting and unmentionable past as a boy soldier, his uncle welcomes Beah into his family once Beah has been rehabilitated, calling him son. His kindness is quite alien to Beah, but he ultimately comes to trust and rely on him.
Junior- Beah’s brother, who accompanies Beah for the first part of his journey. Although Beah and Junior were once close, the terrible things they see makes it difficult for each to support, or even talk to, the other. They are eventually separated during a rebel attack on a village where they have taken refuge, and never see each other again.
Esther- The nurse responsible for Beah’s rehabilitation. She is kind but persistent, and the only one to get Beah to believe her when she says “it is not your fault.” She takes a special interest in Beah and is the first person he tells about the horrible things he’s done and seen.
Laura Simms- A workshop leader at the United Nations for former child soldiers who coaches them on the telling their stories. When Beah comes to the UN to make a speech about child soldiers, he meets and becomes close with Simms. When, later, Beah is living in Freetown and it is attacked, she promises to take Beah in once he gets out of the country.
The effects of the civil war in Sierra Leone were the push factors that contributed to the protagonist seeking refuge. These included war, death, and poverty to name a few. However, Ishmael Beah often wondered near villages that were familiar to him. The pull towards these areas were due to the need for food, and the hope of family members being alive.
Violence: This includes the terror, death, and poverty caused by the negative effects of war. This shows the reader that times of war benefit no-one; peace should be attempted at all levels of civility before resulting to violence.
Hope: Beah remains hopeful for a long period of time that he will find relief from the war and find his remaining family alive. This hope is the only thing he has driving him for a large portion of the book, and the only thing that likely kept him alive. We must remain hopeful in difficult situations; it may be all that we have left.
Panic: Numerous times throughout the book Ishmael and his companions become panicked about the dangers, lack of food, and the potential loss of their loved ones. These experiences serve as a lesson to the reader that no matter how pressing the situation, you must stay calm in the face of adversity. There are some things that cannot be changed, and the ones that can be changed cannot be done so while unduly panicked.
Vengeance: Beah is eventually picked up by the Sierra Leone Army and is turned into a brutal killer. The loss of his family and friends fuels this transition to a darker side. This teaches the reader that we must not take vengeance out of angst or anger.
Redemption: After his turn to the dark side, Beah finds his inner peace during rehabilitation and help from Esther, his nurse. He grows to speak to others who have encountered war as he has, and to inspire peace. Every single person is capable of redemption, as long as they have the will deep inside to change. With this change we can inspire and change the lives of others for the better.
Surface culture in exactly what it sounds like, it is the outside shell, the initial impressions that a country or culture makes on you. Below are five surface culture examples found in Sierra Leone that help create the imagery, and background information for A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. “To have chicken prepared for anyone was a rarity, and it was considered an honor. People ate chicken only on holidays like Christmas or New Year’s.” Foods like fish, stew, plantains, and bananas are mentioned and enjoyed throughout Beah’s journey. Perhaps the only thing more important than the palm tree in Sierra Leone is rice, the staple food, usually eaten every day. In many encounters Beah has, he states he has ‘not eaten for the day’ if he has not eaten rice.
Outside of Freetown (the main city in Sierra Leone), the ‘traditional’ house is of clay and earth construction, built with a thatch roof. These construction techniques have the advantage of allowing the house to stay relatively cool inside during the season of hot and dry months. Beah constantly seeks shelter in nearby constructs (often war abandoned buildings) to beat the heat. To a large extent, participation in the arts is widely spread and informal; native dancing, painting, singing, storytelling, and drumming are widely performed, these are often taught in childhood. These small practices (dancing and storytelling especially) help Beah cope with the war traumas once he reaches his uncle. The Sierra Leone flag has three colored stripes. The green is symbolic of the agricultural and natural resources of the country, while the white represents justice, and the blue is symbolic of Freetown’s harbor.
Deep culture takes a further look into the practices of a culture. It surpasses the surface and dives into the ritualistic, emotional, and sentimental practices of a country or culture. These aspects are frequently seen as Beah travels through smaller villages (similar to his home) and appreciates the native traditions that give him hope. Animism is presented in the smaller villages Beah passes through as the remaining refugees fight for hope. This is the belief that elements of nature have souls or spirits, is also mentioned. For example, Beah’s grandmother says, ”the sky speaks to those who look and listen to it.” An imam is a Muslim religious leader, and they lead prayers, blessings, funerals, and other religious ceremonies in the text. While Islam plays a role in the spirituality of Sierra Leone, tribal traditions are also important.
”I had become a member of the community and was now owned and cared for by all.” This is what Beah says regarding his name-giving ceremony, which is similar in concept to a Western christening or baby dedication ceremony. The idea of caring for fellow members of the community appears frequently throughout the book.
Women are the backbone of Sierra Leonean labor. Men do the physically intense work of clearing fields and plowing swamps, but planting, harvesting, cooking, cleaning, and child care are duties often shouldered by women. Young children, especially girls, are encouraged to help their parents with minor household chores and farm work. This is less present in the text but gives vital background information about the gender roles that we do see present in the text. For example, the lack of women in the regime. The villagers in the text are extremely polite and manner-conscious. Much attention is given, especially in urban areas, to one’s neatness of dress and style of presentation. Courteous and eloquent greetings are a way of life. Elders are especially respected, and Beah’s uncle is no exception. He takes great interest in the teachings and advice his uncle gives him throughout the text.
“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 quotation provides a great perspective to the reader of just how tense and petrifying the civil war in Sierra Leone was. It demonstrates how stressful and frightening it was for Beah and his friends. In addition, it shows how weary the locals were of them and how difficult it must have been to source food and water.
“When I was very little, my father used to say, “If you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen. If there is nothing good left in the destiny of a person, he or she will die.’
This quotation is very effective at representing the theme of hope that I selected above. It also shows the source of Beah’s strength during the devastating war, and what memories he used to stay hopeful. We see him clinging on to the words of his father, which reveals a high level of inner strength and perseverance. “Our innocence had been replaced by fear and we had become monsters. There was nothing we could do about it. Sometimes we ran after people shouting that we were not what they thought, but this made them more scared.”
I chose this quote because it shows the severe character development of Ishmael Beah, and how redemption is possible for anyone. This quotation is by Beah himself, speaking about his actions once he has joined the destruction at the hand of the Army. It shows us just how dark his thoughts and actions went. It also serves to show the reader that redemption is indeed possible for them as well. It makes the full circle of his character towards the end of the book even more respectable.
It began in March 1991, as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) attempted to overthrow successive governments. In 1982, as Sierra Leone’s government and economy worsened, a group of Sierra Leone University, Fourah Bay College students fled to eastern Sierra Leone to form a political organization to rebel against the Temne tribe’s All People’s Congress (APC), the governing party of the time. Their organization became the RUF and its objectives were to overthrow of the Sierra Leonean government, overthrow corrupt officials, and re-allocate Sierra Leone’s wealth to benefit the general population.
Initially, Beah inspires me to remain hopeful in devastating situations. His fight and will live despite his enemies is truly inspiring. However, when Beah gives in to the urges of vengeance and joins the fighting I cannot help but feel let down. This feeling does not last long as we see his character once again transform back into a helpful, respectable, and passionate man. He ultimately outlines how redemption and forgiveness do not take pictures of the past; in despite of your tough comings and mistakes, you can achieve a respectable life. Lastly, we must keep in mind as educators that we do not know the troubles of a student’s past. We should always approach every student with the upmost generosity and encouragement in order to give them the best cultural experience.