A Long Way Gone

A Long Way Gone Summary and Analysis of Chapter 21


Beah returns home and attempts to resume a normal life. His long-time friend Mohamed now lives with Uncle Tommy’s family. The boys start school again at St. Edwards’ Secondary School; Beah is excited to resume his formal schooling. However, Mohamed and Beah are shunned at school on their first day because their past as soldiers has been discovered by the other students, who now fear them.

On the morning of May 25, 1997, Beah hears the sound of gunshots near the State House and House of Parliament buildings. He and Mohamed immediately fear that all they have suffered is about to repeat itself. The central prison is opened and the prisoners freed to loot and commit violence throughout the city. Some look for revenge against the judges and lawyers who imprisoned them, while others join the soliders, who are doing most of the looting. Johnny Paul Koroma comes on the radio, announcing himself as the new president of Sierra Leone. He is head of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, a body whose main purpose was to overthrow the democratically elected President Yejan Kabbah. Later that night the radio informs the people that the RUF and military have joined forces to oust the civilian government. A state of martial law results.

Beah and Mohamed make their way to a secret market to get food and supplies for their family. The market is chaotic, full of desperate people, but the two boys manage to get the items they came for. As they are leaving, a Land Rover full of armed men drives into the market. They fire a warning shot and order everyone to put down their food. A woman panics and is shot in the head. Beah and Mohamed grab their supplies and sneak away. While escaping, they pass some protestors and then a group of armed men following the protesters and civilians, firing their weapons and throwing tear gas. The two boys make their way to a gutter to hide until nightfall.

When the boys arrive home, they find Uncle Tommy on the verandah, tears in his eyes. He embraces the boys and tells them never to go back to the city, but they protest that they will have to when the supplies run low again. The violence lasts another five months, heralded by the constant sound of gunfire from the city. A neighbor who lives a few doors down, along with his wife and two sons, are pulled from his home, shot, and their bodies thrown into a gutter. During this time, Beah has lost contact with Laura Simms in New York.

Uncle Tommy becomes sick and eventually dies of a fever. They bury him the next morning while Beah’s cousins ask who will take care of them now. A few days later, Beah is able to make a collect call to Larua Simms. He asks her if he can stay with her; she replies that he can, so Beah begins his dangerous trek to escape Sierra Leone.

A long, arduous journey ensues, during which Beah is forced to spend most of his saved money for bribes at checkpoints; he his sickened to see even civilian Sierra Leoneans take advantage of each other in this way. Immigration officers require the refugees pay money to cross the border out of sierra Leone into Guinea. Beah is able to make it across the border to Guinea, but there he encounters another difficulty: the national language of Guinea is French, which Beah does not speak. He manages to find someone who speaks Krio, and the two of them find a bus to get them closer to the Sierra Leonean embassy in Guinea, which has been opened as a temporary encampment for refugees. That night Beah listens to stories told by others and remembers one his grandfather told long ago:

A hunter goes into the bush to kill a monkey. Knowing he is a target, the monkey tells the hunter, “If you shoot me, your mother will die, and if you don’t, your father will die.” The hunter is left in this dilemma for the audience to discuss and attempt an answer. None of the children’s answers are considered good enough by the storyteller, but Beah comes up with his own answer and rationale: “if I were the hunter, I would shoot the monkey so that it would no longer have the chance to put other hunters in the same predicament.” With this statement, Beah ends his memoir.


The violence in Freetown (and all over Sierra Leone) parallels and expands upon the violence Beah has already encountered throughout the first two thirds of the book. His sense of déjà vu is clear, as is his frustration at seeing the same evils perpetrated without being able to do anything about them: “I was afraid that if I stayed in Freetown any longer, I was going to end up being a soldier again or my former army friends would kill me if I refused” (p. 207). His prior experience does give him an advantage over the civilians in surviving the uprising, but that is small comfort to him as he is forced to flee yet again from a home that has become unsafe.

The loss of Uncle Tommy marks the moment Beah decides he must leave Sierra Leone for good. He knows he cannot care for his family, and he is afraid he will end up in the military, committing the atrocities he has been redeemed from, all over again. Only Laura Simms offers him a lifeline: a new home in New York City, far from the violence and political upheaval of his homeland.

The military coup brings to light the violent and selfish nature of the allegedly politically-motivated RUF and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council. They admit to overthrowing the democratically-elected government; they are also supported by the military, boys and men whom Beah once fought alongside against the RUF. Now the sides have become soldier versus civilian - no ideologies divide warriors against each other. Now it is every man for himself.

Beah again points out the effects of war on the children, this time in observing his younger cousins: “Children played guessing games, telling each other whether the gun fired was an AK-47, a G3, an RPG, or a machine gun” (p. 205). Childhood games have transformed into a competition to name the weapon of choice; innocence has once again been lost to violence.

The story Beah chooses to end the memoir with gives insight into Beah’s attitude toward the oppressors in Sierra Leone. The tale of the hunter is meant as a childhood philosophical discussion to force young men and women to weigh an impossible dilemma. Beah knows his choice seems hard-hearted (resulting in his mother's death), but he wants to focus on solving the greater problem beyond the choice between the life of one parent or another. He identifies the monkey who forces the choice as the true threat, and wishes to eliminate that threat to future “hunters.” From this the reader can infer that Beah would see the military regime in Sierra Leone toppled so that it no longer forced boys to choose between life and death, between family and military service, or between childhood and violence - even if it demands a sacrifice. Beah's childhood and innocence were sacrificed, but with this memoir, his words can expose and hopefully help end the atrocity.