A Long Way Gone

A Long Way Gone Summary and Analysis of Chapter 5


Beah and his companions experience hunger and thirst the likes of which none of them had encountered before. They scavenge abandoned farms and even stooped to assaulting a little boy who had two boiled ears of corn to himself. The boy’s parents, rather than confronting the young men, instead give them each an ear of corn; Beah assumes pity saved them from punishment. Beah feels guilty about their pillage, but accepts that they had no other option.

As they continue on their journey, Beah, his brother Junior, and their friends Gibrilla, Kaloko, Talloi and Khalilou are captured by rebels “none of whom,” Beah notes “were older than twenty-one” (p. 31). The six boys are taken to a nearby rebel-occupied village, all the time threatened with being shot by their guard should they step out of line. While being held there, Beah witnesses the rebels’ torment of an old man who wanders into the village looking for his family. The rebels knock the old man to the ground and threaten to run a bayonet through his throat while they interrogate him. They accuse the old man of being unsympathetic to their cause, then fire a gun next to his head, convincing the old man (temporarily) that he has been shot. The rebels laugh at the desperate old man’s antics, and force the boys to laugh as well, at gunpoint.

Beah, his friends, and some other captured boys are then lined up to be selected for initiation into the RUF. The rebels’ first round picks include Khalilou, Beah, and a few others, but some rebels protest that the choosing was done poorly and they start over. This second time Junior is chosen but Beah and his friends are not. Junior and the other chosen boys are then told by the rebels that they will be initiated into the RUF through the trial of killing the boys who were not chosen. Junior nearly bursts into tears at the thought of killing the boys, but nearby gunshots disrupt the proceedings and the boys manage to scatter into the forest. Amid the chaos of exchanged gunfire, Beah escapes the rebels and believes himself alone until Junior and the others catch up with him. Reunited, the six boys make their way back to the village in which they had spent their time scavenging for food to sleep and consider their next steps.


This chapter recounts Beah’s first direct encounter with the rebels. The RUF members are portrayed as sadistic, violent young men entertained by the pain of others. When the rebels accuse the old man of failing to support their cause, Beah wonders “What cause?” He notices that whomever painted the initials “RUF” on all the walls of the village probably did not even know his alphabet. “Rather, he only knew what R, U, and F looked like” (p. 33). Beah considers the rebels to be ignorant young men enamored of killing and torture, not freedom fighters in the service of a greater cause.

The depth of Beah’s love for his brother (and vice-versa) shows in the recruit selection scene. In both rounds, Beah and Junior are on the verge of being separated from one another. When he is told he will have to kill the weaker boys (and very likely watch his brother die), Junior cannot help but weep in anguish. But when the brothers find each other in the forest, Junior gives Beah “that smile he had held back when I was about to face death” (p. 36). Junior wants to reassure his younger brother, just as he has done in the past, but in the midst of an upheaval that has overturned their whole world, even the protective Junior is at a loss to care for his younger brother.