A Long Way Gone Summary and Analysis

Chapter 2

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Summary

Chapter 2 opens with Beah pushing a wheelbarrow toward a cemetery. The wheelbarrow holds a dead body, wrapped in white. Beah is now an experienced soldier, carrying his AK-47 on his back as he pushes his blood-stained cargo toward its destination. He wonders why this body is going to the cemetery when so many others have been left to die where they fell or be buried elsewhere. Once he stops, he unwraps the body feet first, uncovering myriad bullet wounds all over the corpse. When he reaches the face, he discovers that it is his own.

He awakens to his new life in New York City. He has only been here a month, so his surroundings upon awakening are still unfamiliar to him. He cannot shake the dream-memory of his time in Sierra Leone. He reflects that he now lives in three worlds: the present, his dreams, and the past.

Analysis

Beah opens this chapter by jumping in time past his experiences in the civil war. In his dream, he is a hardened soldier, inured to death. The change in Beah is jarring compared to the optimistic boy of Chapter 1, who recalled childhood images of the moon that made him happy. When he reaches the point of discovering the corpse is his own, the reader understands that this is a dream - but it is a dream informed by horrid memory. The reader is then told that Beah lives in New York City, in his “new life”. This sets the stage for hope: we know that whatever Beah experiences throughout the violence of Sierra Leone, he will arrive safely in New York City. However, that safety is only physical; he is still haunted by memories and nightmare scenes of the violence he saw while still so young.

The dream image of Beah pushing his own corpse in the wheelbarrow foreshadows the death of his youthful innocence when he acts in accordance with his commanding officer's order to kill a prisoner. He finds himself the agent of his own symbolic death and with that knowledge must deal with the attenuating grief.

Beah's trifold world - past, present, and dreams - will continue to overlap throughout the book, with the primary emphasis placed upon the past (which really forms the narrative's "present" throughout). Memories, usually in the form of dreams, will mitigate the horrors Beah encounters throughout his youth during the Sierra Leone civil war. In the current chapter, however, the reader is simply introduced to the horrors of Beah's life as a boy soldier through the metaphorical language of dreams and as a past belonging to a different place and time, and thus physically separate from the Beah of the present. This serves to distance both Beah and the reader from the horrors which are about to be recounted, ironically making the full scope of the atrocities more comprehensible.