The Life Lessons A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah Teaches Us
“The book is raw, run through with melancholy, but so honest and longing that hundred and thousands have read it, and it’s made Beah…arguably the most read African writer in contemporary literature,” said Dave Eggers (Vanity Fair). A Long Way Gone is a story of a boy fleeing from the war in Sierra Leone who has gone through unthinkable things. Through the help of rehabilitation and hope, Ishmael regained his humanity and was able to share his mesmerizing story with thousands of people. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah is an important work of art to read and should be added to high school curriculums because it teaches about the brutality of the war, it emphasizes how child soldiers in Sierra Leone are treated, and it shows the importance of family.
Throughout Ishmael’s journey, readers have been educated about the brutal circumstances of the war. When Ishmael was just twelve years old he was affected by the Civil War in Sierra Leone. It was quite literally at his doorstep since the Rebels traveled from village to village killing everyone they saw. Once you were touched by the war you were a long way gone from going back. “The children of these families wouldn’t look at us, and they jumped at the sound of chopping wood or as stones landed on the tin roofs flung by children hunting birds with slingshot” (Beah 5). Just like that in one day, these child’s innocence was taken from them.
Imagine a little child going to school and just like any day was excited to go back home and tell his family about what he did that day. Although due to the war he never went back home, he never got to see his family again, and never got to be a child again. However, not only were the children affected by the brutality but, “…we saw a man run from the driver’s seat to the sidewalk where he vomited blood. His arm was bleeding. When he stopped vomiting, he began to cry. It was the first time I had seen a grown man cry like a child, and I felt a sting in my heart” (Beah 12). The circumstances were heartbreaking yet the ruthless acts kept going on. “Blood was running down her dress and dripping behind her, making a trail. Her child had been shot dead as she ran for her life. Luckily for her, the bullet didn’t go through the baby’s body” (Beah 13). The consequences of the war are beyond understanding, and just reading about the horrendous massacre has expressed the circumstances that the people of Sierra Leone had to deal with.
In addition, Ishmael Beah emphasizes the heart-breaking truth about how the children of Sierra Leone have survived by becoming child soldiers and how little awareness is brought to it. Many children were forced and brainwashed into becoming child soldiers and were exposed to death every day. “I had never held a gun that long before and it frightened me. The closest thing to it had been a toy gun made out of bamboo when I was seven” (Beah 111). It’s breathtaking how children so young who probably had never even touched or even seen a gun now had their lives depending on them. “Blood poured out of the bullet holes in him like water rushing through newly opened tributaries. His eyes were wide open; he still held his gun” (Beah 118). The child soldiers survived horrors like seeing their friends getting shot by bullets and even having to kill others in order to save themselves. William Boyd makes a good point when he points out that, “Perhaps this is the first time that a child soldier has been able to give literary voice to one of the most distressing phenomena of the late 20th century” (New York Times). Although Ishmael has gone through a lot, by sharing his story he has brought awareness to this issue.
Moreover, in A Long Way Gone Ishmael shows the importance of family. For example, “…I could visualize my father holding his hard hat and running back home from work, and my mother, weeping and running to my little brother’s school” (Beah 11). As Ishmael dwells in the thoughts of what his family must be going through it make readers understand the importance of family and how family is a blessing. Ishmael at one point in his journey also understands the significance of others when, “The most difficult part of being in the forest was the loneliness. It became unbearable each day” (Beah 52). When Beah is in the forest, his solidarity takes a toll on him and he appreciates the true meaning of family. Since family was so important to Ishmael, even though he could be with his actual family he made a new family, who were the other soldiers. “The villages that we captured and turned into our bases as we went along and the forest that we slept in became my home. My squad was my family…” (Beah 126). As shown in this quote, Ishmael’s army becomes his family. Ishmael had a very strong bond with his family especially his brothers and mom. Even though Ishmael wasn’t physically with his actual family, through his journey people like the soldiers and Uncle Tommy got him through this tough time. Ishmael Beah, author of the mesmerizing story A Long Way Gone, writes a significant saga which communicates the brutal circumstances of the war, stresses the fact that child soldiers is an issue, and expresses how important family is. In other words, throughout his journey Ishmael has educated the readers on the ruthless conditions of the war. He informs and brings awareness to the issue of child soldiers and expresses the importance of family. In short, A Long Way Gone is an important work that should be read and added to high school curriculums.
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