A Long Way Gone

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A Long Way Gone Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A nurse named Esther comes to Beah one day a few months after he cut his hand, and gives him a cold Coca-Cola, telling him to come visit her any time. Beah goes to visit her, but is so distrustful he won’t tell her his name without getting angry. She responds with understanding, and tells him he has a nice smile. A few days later she gives him a rap cassette, making him extremely happy. She gives him a medical exam as he listens to it, and finds a bullet hole in his foot. He tells her how he got the wound.
The nurse earns his trust by treating him like a boy—by directly engaging his interests as a boy—not by telling him nothing is his fault. She shows genuine interest in his interests, and in his positive qualities, rather than focusing on whatever feelings of guilt he might have. Beah warms up to her to the point of feeling he can share his past with her.
Themes
Children in War Theme Icon
The Horror of War Theme Icon
Companionship, Hope, and the Self Theme Icon
Guilt and Responsibility Theme Icon
In Beah’s story, his squad is drawn into a village and ambushed. Five of their men are killed almost immediately, and the rebels and Beah’s squad fight back and forth with the rebels for the control of the village. Beah’s squad think that they have captured the village, but are ambushed again, and Beah is shot in the foot three times. Beah is dragged by his comrades into a hut, and when he wakes the next day, he is in so much pain the doctor is afraid he will die of it. Beah is carried back to their former base, where the bullet is removed in surgery at great pain. He is told he is lucky, but Beah thinks that he is brave.
This is the first time Beah’s war story hasn’t ended in some sort of heroism on the part of himself or his fellow soldiers. Despite how close he comes to death, Beah’s perspective does not change on war. The brave survive, and luck has nothing to do with it. It’s an innocent perspective, appropriate for the brainwashed boy.
Themes
Children in War Theme Icon
The Horror of War Theme Icon
Companionship, Hope, and the Self Theme Icon
Guilt and Responsibility Theme Icon
Esther is crying because of Beah’s story. Esther makes a mistake, and tells Beah it is not his fault, making him angry. She tells him he can keep the Walkman, and he throws it at her. That night, Beah has flashbacks about slitting a prisoner’s throat, and cannot think of his childhood.
Although Esther has earned some of Beah’s trust, and he likes to be treated like a boy, he does not wish to be told that he is only a boy. Tenderness of that kind makes him fundamentally uncomfortable, as it simply cannot square with the fact that he has killed and slit throats.
Themes
Children in War Theme Icon
The Horror of War Theme Icon
Companionship, Hope, and the Self Theme Icon
Guilt and Responsibility Theme Icon
Despite Esther having said it wasn’t his fault, Beah continues to go to her, and one day he is taken into the city for a check-up. Beah goes to the hospital, and afterwards a field-worker, Leslie, buys Beah a Bob Marley cassette. Beah memorizes the lyrics so he can sing them to Esther, and Leslie teaches Beah about Rastafarianism, but Beah is still reluctant to talk anymore about his past.
As it turns out, all it takes to earn Beah’s trust is to connect with his interest in music. Confronting his problems, however, is another matter, but to have him even enjoying himself is a feat altogether, and a way for him to get away from his nightmares. There is a sense here that a new cassette represents the beginning of Beah’s re-engagement with his childhood, himself, and his past.
Themes
Children in War Theme Icon
The Horror of War Theme Icon
Companionship, Hope, and the Self Theme Icon
Guilt and Responsibility Theme Icon
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Beah has a new, horrible dream, in which he is surrounded in his house by men stabbing and killing each other. When the men disappear Beah stands outside of the house in front of his family; he is covered in blood, but they don’t see it. It begins to rain, and his family runs inside, leaving him to be cleaned of the blood. When he is, he tries to go into the house, but it is gone. It is the first time he has dreamed of his family since the war began.
In the dream, even once he is washed of the horror, he will still not have his family. It is heartbreaking that even if Beah gets past his trauma to his childhood, he will have memories only of what he has lost. Nature here is at first a savior, but it’s coming to wash him heralds the disappearance of his family. Beah can only continue on if he leaves his family—and all that guilt and trauma associated with their death, and then the “revenge” he took on rebels for their deaths as a boy soldier—behind.
Themes
Children in War Theme Icon
The Horror of War Theme Icon
Companionship, Hope, and the Self Theme Icon
Nature  Theme Icon
Beah goes to Esther to talk about his dream, and she gets him to talk about his time in war, too. She tells him it is not his fault, but Beah actually begins to believe her now, even if he still can’t completely trust her. She takes him to the wharf one day and they look at the moon together as Beah once did as a child. Beah sees a woman cradling a baby in her arms.
Beah is slowly beginning to let his guard down, coming to desire the affection and tenderness, and even the chance to talk about what has happened to him. That he sees in the moon shapes as he used to is a sign of his boyhood returning.
Themes
Children in War Theme Icon
The Horror of War Theme Icon
Companionship, Hope, and the Self Theme Icon
Guilt and Responsibility Theme Icon
Nature  Theme Icon