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A Long Way Gone Summary and Analysis

by Ishmael Beah

Chapter 11

Summary

The boys experience delayed grief for Saidu’s passing. As they take a break from walking, Moriba begins to weep, followed by all the other boys save Beah. After a few minutes the boys stop their crying and continue their walk. From there on, the boys attempt to keep their hopes up. Alhaji hopes to see his mother in the next village, while Kanei believes they will at least find news of their families there.

As they continue, the sky grows dark and a heavy rain falls. The rain continues through the night, forcing the boys to remain in one place for the duration. The next morning they attempt to dry their wet clothes before continuing on their way.

As they get nearer to the village, the see a man cutting down ripe bananas. Beah recognizes him as Gasemu, one of the “notorious single men” of Mattru Jong. Gasemu studies the boys for a moment, then asks them to help him carry bananas to the village. As they gather the bananas, Gasemu indicates that he recognizes Beah and tells the young man that his family has been looking for him. At this news, Beah becomes impatient to reach the village but Gasemu insists on keeping a slow, steady pace. Beah becomes angry when Gasemu calls for a rest, but then Beah starts his walk before everyone else so that he may be in the lead.

Drawing nearer to the village, the boys hear gunshots, dogs barking, and people screaming. As they top the hill overlooking the village, they see smoke rising from the houses. They take cover in nearby bushes and listen to the gunfire and the screams of men, women, and children. Eventually the gunshots die down and Beah heads into the village to find his family. He finds many burnt-out houses and some charred corpses, but no one he can recognize as a member of his family. The boys hear screams coming from a burning building and break open the locked door, but only a woman and child escape the inferno.

Meanwhile, Gasemu has wandered to another part of the village. Here he sees the bodies of over twenty people, all shot in the back, and begins screaming and crying. Gasemu indicates to Beah the house his family had been staying in; Beah approaches the burnt-out hut and begins kicking its walls in rage and shock. The other boys are forced to pull him away.

Once he recovers from his undirected rage, Beah concludes that if Gasemu had not delayed them, he would have seen his family. He attacks Gasemu, eventually striking him with a pestle. The other boys hold Beah back again; Beah’s anger infects them and they turn on one another, some blaming Gasemu for their not rejoining their parents, while others defend Gasemu as innocent of any intentional harm. Gasemu intervenes to stop the fighting, insisiting that “None of this is anyone’s fault.”

Further strife is prevented by the arrival of more than ten rebels in the village. Beah notes that only two of them look older than him. They rebels are congratulating each other on their destruction of the village, claiming that this is their most successful attack to date because none of the villagers escaped. While the rebels brag to one another and fire their guns randomly in the air, the boys and Gasemu hide and watch in anger and terror. One of the boys accidentally makes noise, drawing the rebels’ attention. As if on cue, the boys and Gasemu bolt into the forest to escape. The rebels give chase into the night, only giving up once the moon sets and a heavy rain falls, obscuring their prey’s trail. Once they lose their pursuers, Gasemu falls to the ground and begins sobbing. Beah feels frightened at the sight of a grown man crying. The boys pick Gasemu up and discover that he had been shot in the leg and side by the rebels during their chase. The boys try to stanch the flow of blood while Gasemu gives them directions to a wahlee (coffee processing place) and shows them the right path to take through the forest. Past midday, Gasemu asks to be set down on the ground; he falls prone and dies. The boys carry Gasemu’s body to the wahlee and lay him at rest.

Analysis

Beah uses figurative language to contrast the beauty of nature to the boys’ dire flight from the hostile rebels. He says the “kept running until the sky swallowed the sun and gave birth to the moon” (pp. 97-98) then “The moon disappeared and took the stars with it, making the sky weep” (p. 98). As with his prior uses of imagery and figurative language, Beah is emphasizing the natural beauty of Sierra Leone in contrast to the ugly brutality of the rebels and their victims. The repetition of the moon image from earlier chapters draws the reader back to that motif’s meaning: there are some constants in the midst of chaos, even though they seem far away at the moment. The boys are running for their lives; nature seems to help them escape the evil the rebels intend for them by bringing rain to save them.

Beah also heightens the tension in this episode leading up to the village. His increased impatience with Gasemu’s slow pace to the village hints that something dire may be on the other side of the hill. Gasemu’s nonchalant attitude provides a stark contrast to Beah’s hunger to see his family again after so long a separation. When the attack on the village is discovered, the reader automatically sympathizes with Beah’s frustration, anger, and sense of sorrow when he blames Gasemu for his not being able to see his family again. Only when logical thought takes over does the reader realize that, had Beah made it to the village earlier, he would likely be among the charred or shot casualties they boys find in the village after the attack. From this we infer that Gasemu’s slowness actually saved Beah’s life.

Beah’s feelings toward Gasemu reach their full development when the older man dies. He regrets having hit Gasemu with the pestle, and reflects that the (literal) blood on his hands from that conflict still remains even though Gasemu has spilled so much more blood since then. The boys do not abandon Gasemu’s body, showing they have learned to honor the dead just as the previous village honored Saidu’s passing.

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