A Long Way Gone

A Long Way Gone Summary and Analysis of Chapter 8


Beah recounts his walking for two days without sleep, stopping only to drink water from streams. He cannot shake the feeling of being followed, and so he keeps pushing himself onward. On the third day, he becomes lost in a forest and has difficulty finding his bearings. He makes eye contact with a snake, which leads him to grab a stick for protection. Even after spending time familiarizing himself with his immediate vicinity, Beah is unable to gain a sense of direction. He resolves to make his temporary stay in this unknown location as comfortable as possible; he clears away dead leaves and marks his path from the campsite to the stream. There is enough food and water nearby that he can stay here indefinitely, so Beah decides to take a break from his walking to rest.

While resting, Beah recalls his visit (with Junior) to Kabati. He recalls his grandfather’s lore about local leaves and bark which could be used for various medicinal purposes. Among them is a special medicine that improves the brain’s ability to recall information; Beah remembers his grandfather giving this to him and claims it has given him a photographic memory to this day.

Beah decides to take a bath; lacking soap, he calls upon his grandfather’s lessons and finds a particular kind of grass that provide a foamy substitute. Beah also washes his clothes and dries them during the day.

The loneliness of being in the forest affects Beah the most. Alone with only his constant thoughts, he cannot stop his mind from pondering the fates of his friends and family. He develops a fear of sleeping, anxious that his suppressed negative thoughts would come through in his dreams. As the days pass, Beah keeps searching for a way out of the forest; his efforts are in vain, however, for the forest seems to become thicker and more threatening no matter how far or in which direction he walks.

One evening Beah encounters a herd of wild pigs. He climbs into a tree to avoid them. However, when he climbs down - thinking them gone - he is attacked by two of the herd. Beah runs and narrowly escapes by climbing a tree. The pigs summon the rest of the herd and begin charging the tree to make Beah fall, but eventually give up as night falls.

Beah recounts a story his grandmother once told: there was a hunter of wild pigs who used magic to transform himself into a wild boar. He would lead the herd into an open area then transform himself into a human and shoot the pigs. The pigs discover the secret plant which the hunter is using to effect the transformation back into a human being; once he is gone, the pigs destroy every leaf of this plant they can find. When the hunter attempts his trickery, he cannot turn into a human again; the rest of the pigs surround and kill him. Now wild pigs distrust humans, fearing that any human being they see is there to avenge the hunter.

With the immediate threat of the pigs gone, Beah climbs down from his tree to continue walking. He remembers how his grandfather inserted medicine into his skin to protect him from snakebite and enable him to control snakes; however, when he was older Beah stopped believing in the medicine and lost his ability to stop snakes.

After more than a month of lonely wandering, Beah finally encounters people again. Among them are three boys - Alhaji, Musa, and Kanei - who had attended Centennial Secondary School with Beah in Mattru Jong. Three boys named Saidu, Jumah, and Moriba round out the group, which is on its way to the village Yele in Bonthe disctrict; they boys believe that village to be safe because they have heard it is occupied by the Sierra Leone Armed Forces. Despite the fact that the number of boys traveling together will cause problems, Beah remains with them because he does not want to be alone anymore.

Six days’ travel later, the boys encounter an old man who can barely walk. He has been abandoned by the rest of the villagers, who fled into the forest when they heard that “seven boys” were on their way to the village. Once the boys explain who they are and what they are doing, the old man asks them to stay a while and keep him company. The boys ask him his name, but he avoids the question in order to save a place in the boys’ memories for other things. The old man gives the boys directions then sends them on their way. From the old man, Beah learns that someone has started a rumor about the “seven boys,” a rumor which paints the boys to be more dangerous than they really are.


Beah again employs the technique of flashback in order to fill in the details of his life before the rebels attacked Mattru Jong. The repeated delving into this memory also underscore the way his mind worked while he spent so much time isolated in the forest. He connects his encounter with the snake to his grandfather’s medicine allowing him to resist snakebites (which Beah says will not work anymore due to his lack of faith in the medicine), and utilizes his grandfather’s forest lore to bathe himself properly. Through these flashbacks, Beah demonstrates how his family’s legacy works to keep him alive and relatively comfortable despite the dire circumstances he finds himself in.

Beah also recounts his father’s words: “If you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen. If there is nothing good left in the destiny of a person, he or she will die.” These words sustain Beah’s motivation to press onward even though he has no idea where his walking will lead. Beah places this recollection just prior to his encounter with the six boys, foreshadowing that his coming across the boys is part of “something good” left to happen to him as he awaited his destiny. The meeting does indeed become fortuitous, for the boys become a surrogate family for one another as the weeks progress.

Beah’s reflection on loneliness indicates another unseen aspect of the rebels’ evil: they leave their living victims isolated as orphans and widows. Beah feels most forlorn as he travels without direction through the ever-thickening forest; the external world reflects his own inner struggle with loneliness and fear. He has no direction - both literally and figuratively - and it is because of the rebels’ attacks on the villages that Beah, and other like him, find themselves outcasts.