War is far uglier than most people who live in wealthy nations realize. Most people do not understand nor care about violent conflicts in Africa, the continent that has suffered unimaginable violence and poverty, because of indifference to and a lack of knowledge of the abominable suffering that is caused by the perpetrators of war. However, war is an extremely familiar and tragic conflict, especially for Ishmael Beah, a talented author who was a first-hand witness and survivor of the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone. During the 1990s, he was enslaved as a child soldier during the war. He was brainwashed to kill, and he spent his entire wartime existence suffering from the intense psychological consequences of losing family and friends to the nonstop violence.
Ishmael Beah’s harrowing wartime experience was so graphic and calamitous, he could never distance himself from the horrific memories. Nevertheless, Ishmael Beah channeled his anger, his sorrow, and his pain into energy that he cultivated to inspire the world. He recorded his wartime nightmares and his recovery in a powerful memoir titled “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier”. Ishmael Beah, the author, wrote this important book in order to educate the world about the consequences of war. Through graphic details and tragic stories, the author sends readers the message that war is a devastating force that mutilates countless livelihoods and destroys family bonds.
Primarily, the author uses metaphors and creative language to show the desperate circumstances of the war and its helpless victims. People learn about wars by reading textbooks, but the real-life testimonies of survivors are far more effective at making readers and listeners reflect on the true ugliness of war. By using frequent figurative language to describe his wartime experiences, Ishmael Beah is trying to trigger the emotions of readers, so that they can fight for the cause against global violence when they would otherwise turn a blind eye. An example of this literary language is: “Under these 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 the clouds to avoid seeing what was happening” (p. 80). Here, Ishmael Beah uses personification to explain the hopelessness he felt when he watched the war tear his country apart. This personification is very significant. The stars ‘violently colliding with each other’ is symbolic of the rebel militia murdering innocent civilians and causing constant gunfire, and the moon “hiding behind the clouds” is symbolic of the world being too terrified to intervene in the worsening massacres. In a sense, Ishmael Beah wrote this excerpt as a cry for help, to urge the world to have an active hand in ending global violence. In addition to this, the author highlights the personal desperation that he felt to see his family. Ishmael Beah highlights the fact that one of the most awful aspects of the war that killed his family was the destructive burden of the unknown.
The author writes “It was much easier to be sad than to go back and forth between emotions, and this gave me the determination I needed to keep moving. I was never disappointed, since I always expected the worst to happen” (p. 69). As Ishmael Beah was fighting to avoid the death grip of the rebels, he made himself believe that he was trapped inside and outside, without anyone to save him. This despondency is an example of the irreparable harm that warmongers cause. Basically, the author implements creative language into “A Long Way Gone” in order to exhibit the widespread desperation of war-torn Sierra Leone.
Moreover, the author visualizes the war which he witnessed firsthand by utilizing heart-wrenching imagery. Imagery is a central aspect of the author’s purpose for writing this book because it paints painfully clear images of the unimaginable circumstances of the war in Sierra Leone. Plain facts cannot even begin to describe Ishmael Beah’s wartime experiences, so he needed to go further to give an accurate description. For example, the author writes “whenever I turned on the tap water, all I could see was blood gushing out” (p. 145). This quote is descriptive proof that the author made a mental connection between almost every civilian object that he came across, and the terrible war that he fought in. Once the author describes the impossibly gory scenery of the war front, it becomes clear why it damaged his thinking process.
The author makes this point by telling readers: “As we got closer, we opened fire, dropping those who stood in front. The rest we chased into the swamp, where we lost them. There, chaos had already begun feasting on the eyes of the dead. Limbs and fragmented skulls lay on the top of the bog, and the water in the swamp had been replaced by blood” (p. 119). Death during this war was widespread, and the author reminds readers through this imagery that these deaths certainly were not peaceful. These images are meant to invoke fear and disgust in hearts of readers, and to show that the blood that was spilled during the war stained more than just the author’s uniform, but also the author’s heart. In turn, this graphic symbolism is solid evidence that the war that robbed Ishmael Beah of a peaceful childhood, was tragic beyond belief.
Furthermore, the author elaborates on the deep, personal relationships he had throughout and after the war. He did this to prove that he was psychologically traumatized by the fact that his loving family was murdered. Many people cannot even to begin to imagine abhorrent clans of violent rebels killing their families, who they love and cherish, before they even get the chance to say goodbye. This caused profound damage to Ishmael Beah, the author of “A Long Way Gone”. As a result, he needed to appreciate the relationships that he did have. One of the relationships that the author details in this book is with a boy named Saidu, one of his childhood friends. The author writes: “I remembered a few weeks back when Saidu had spoken about parts of him slowly dying each passing day, as we carried on with our journey.
Perhaps all of him had died that night when he spoke in that strange voice after we had survived that attack by men with machetes, axes, and spears” (p. 87). This is Ishmael Beah’s first experience where he had to cope with the tragic death of someone that is close to him, since his family was murdered. Due to his close friend’s unexpected death, the author felt petrified that death would take away the lives of everyone else that he cares about. This excerpt teaches readers that the perpetrators of war seek to conquer their victims by separating them from their loved ones. Ishmael Beah was so despondent because of the loss of his family, that, in his words, “I wanted to see my family, even if it meant dying with them” (p. 96). In this quotation, the author shows that he went through one of the major stages of grief: bargaining. He became so distressed over the loss of his family, he wanted to do anything to reunite with them. In fact, he was even willing to sacrifice his life so that he could join his beloved family. In spite of his undying grief, he carried on.
A few years after he was rescued from the warfront and adopted into a new home, he attended a United Nations conference about solving world peace, on behalf of his war-torn country. He was a first-hand witness to the war, so he was able to relay his experiences to the rest of the attendees. The author and the other members of the conference bonded over the fact that many of them came from horrific circumstances. The author writes “I was sad to leave, but I was also pleased to have met people outside of Sierra Leone. Because if I was to get killed upon my return, I knew that a memory of my existence was alive somewhere in the world” (p. 200). This excerpt from the book shows that Ishmael Beah is strong on the inside, eve if the war tore apart his relationships. In brief, the author described deeply personal relationships to highlight the life-changing impact of being torn apart from his family.
Finally, the author recalled stories that he had learned as a child, which were his only sources of hope. It was true that these stories are the very memories that he had to hold on to, after all of his family were killed. One of the stories that he recalled is from his grandmother, who retold the story to him from an elder of the village that the author used to live in: “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” (p. 17). The mood of this story is very positive and upbeat.
It is likely that Ishmael Beah mentions this story in “A Long Way Gone” in order to point out the direct contrast of this cheerful story with the ominous, gloomy circumstances of the brutal civil war. Perhaps an even more symbolic story is one that he had heard from his friend’s grandfather as a young child. The story that the author heard was that a hunter raised his rifle at a monkey sitting on a low tree branch. Just before the hunter shot him, the monkey forced him to make a choice on whether to follow through with shooting him or not. Either way, the hunter’s choice would lead to one of his parents being killed. Ishmael Beah told readers that he had developed an answer to this challenging story when he was seven years old: “I concluded to myself that if I were the hunter, I would shoot the monkey so that it would no longer have the chance to put other hunters in the same predicament” (p. 218).
Ishmael Beah’s answer to his friend’s grandfather’s question represents his hatred of war and his desire to prevent it. The author answered this question the way that he did because he seeks to prevent war from recurring in the world, by educating many people about the agonizing suffering that he endured during the war in Sierra Leone. Concisely, Ishmael Beah uses the stories that he learned as a child to underscore the fact that, even though the war robbed him of all of his family, his family lives on through the stories.
In conclusion, the author’s purpose for writing his memoir titled “A Long Way Gone”, is to emphasize that war is lethal and is a force that deprives innocent people of their families, their friends, their strength, and their courage to move on. The language that he utilizes throughout the book is truthful, thorough, and it underscores the ghastly violence that he dealt with. The imagery that he applies gives readers a heart-wrenching glimpse of the horrific scenes of the war front, which many stunned readers would otherwise think to be untrue.
The author describes the communications that he had struggled to maintain during the tragic war, and the relationships that he had built after the fact. Last but not least, the author told tragic stories in order to accentuate the only things that gave him the confidence to keep fighting for his life, and the overall tragedy of war. This book is more honest about war than the people who cause war will ever be. People can learn about wars during history class, but no education is more effective and heart-wrenching than that of a first-hand survivor. If the collection graphic details and tragic recounts in “A Long Way Gone” are not a shockingly rude awakening for the world to unite and end ongoing, lethal wars, then what is?