A Long Way Gone Summary and Analysis
by Ishmael Beah
A Sunday morning begins ominously as the lieutenant tells the new recruits to “worship your Lord today, because you might not have another chance.” Most of the boys believe they are preparing for further drills, but Beah notices the adult soldiers gathering ammunition and supplies as well, and deduces that they are headed out to encounter the enemy. The corporal sets the boys and men in file and tells them to shoot anyone they see who is not wearing either a green head tie or a helmet like his own. Sheku, one of Beah’s tent-mates, gathers too much ammunition and falls over, necessitating the lessening of his burden by the corporal. Then white capsules of an unknown drug are distributed to the young soldiers, allegedly to boost their energy. The soldiers, old and new, march out of the village toward their destination.
The company sets up an ambush in the forest and await the passing of rebels. Eventually they spot some people wandering through the forest; when it is clear that armed rebels are among the people, the Lieutenant Jabati gives the order and they open fire. Beah discovers that his trigger finger is numb and he cannot fire his weapon. Beah’s other tent-mate, Josiah, is knocked onto a tree trunk by an RPG shell, breaking his back. Beah also sees Musa, dead from a head wound. At this moment, Beah manages to fire his G3 weapon and kill a man. He envisions the massacres he has seen the rebels perpetrate in the past, fueling his anger and bloodlust. He continues killing everyone he sees, stopping only to take ammunition, weapons, and supplies from their corpses.
The army returns to their village base at nightfall. While sleeping Beah has a nightmare that as he is picking Josiah up from the tree trunk, a gunman accosts him and points his rifle at Beah’s head. Beah awakens from his nightmare firing his gun inside the tent, emptying the magazine. He notes that from that point on, he had no problem shooting his gun.
The white capsules the young soldiers are given are probably some form of methamphetamine, since they are allegedly intended to boost the boys’ energy. Beah notes later that he and the other soldiers become addicted to the drugs, just as they become dependent upon cocaine, brown brown, and marijuana. The need to deaden their senses to the slaughter around them is a recurring theme in this section of Beah’s memoir; the drugs are the soldiers’ coping mechanism against feeling anything of the horrors witnessed - and committed by themselves - during this conflict.
Beah’s account of his first firefight demonstrates a young man’s need to vilify his enemies in order to kill them. At first, Beah is unable to open fire on another human being even though he is ordered to do so. Only when his friend and tent-mate are killed does he realize the lives at stake and he is then able to open fire on the rebels. However, Beah overcompensates for his loss by killing any and every non-military person he sees and shutting off his emotions about the lives he is snuffing out. Once this monster of violence has been unleashed, he cannot control it or return to his prior state of pacific innocence.
The nightmare Beah experiences that night underscores the turning point for the young man in his shift from childhood to forced maturity. He has seen his friends die at the hands of rebels - up to this point, every offence the rebels committed in his sight had been against strangers - and now can unleash his pain and hatred on a visible target. From that point on, he has no difficulty identifying the rebels as inhuman enemies to be killed on sight.
A Long Way Gone Essays and Related Content
- A Long Way Gone: Major Themes
- A Long Way Gone: Questions
- A Long Way Gone: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Ishmael Beah: Biography
- A Long Way Gone Summary
- About A Long Way Gone
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Prologue: New York City, 1998
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 1
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 2
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 3
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 4
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 5
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 6
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 7
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 8
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 9
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 10
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 11
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 12
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 13
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 14
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 15
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 16
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 17
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 18
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 19
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 20
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 21
- Sierra Leone Civil War
- Related Links on A Long Way Gone
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources