A Long Way Gone

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Companionship, Hope, and the Self Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Long Way Gone, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Companionship, Hope, and the Self Theme Icon

In the face of so much horror, Beah’s will to live is tested. His hope that each new set of companions will be the one he gets to keep—the ones who will not leave him or be torn from him—allows him to keep moving forward, even as the evidence mounts against that hope with each loss.

Beah is separated from his family at the beginning of the memoir, fleeing the advancing rebels with a group of boys that includes his brother. The boys’ companionship often feels futile. There is no remedy for the horror the boys have seen, and their only option is to flee from it. More often than not, the boys do not speak at all. As Beah often notes, it is far more dangerous for the boys to travel together than it would be to be alone. They are often mistaken for child soldiers even though they are unarmed, and as a group they are far more conspicuous to the rebels. Yet they stick together, feeling that they could not keep on without each other’s companionship.

At one point, Beah is almost reunited with his family in a new village. He allows himself to hope that not only will he be reunited with them, but that his mother and father’s love for each other will have been rekindled. But just as he and the other boys are coming upon the village, he hears them being slaughtered. His hope that he might return to life as he once knew it is ruined. He goes so far as to say “I wanted to see my family, even if it meant dying with them.” His hope, at that point, is to die. When Beah is subsequently picked up by the army, he hopes again, in this case, that he might at least be safe. The army promptly betrays that hope by conscripting he and other boys into the war. Once the boys begin killing, they cannot imagine, or even hope for a life beyond the war. Their squad becomes a kind of terminal family and revenge a way of embracing despair. Without companionship, without hope, Beah loses himself.

Beah is mercifully taken from the front after two years, but he is so brainwashed he views his rehabilitation as another loss. The squad had, after all, had become his only family. He reacts violently to being put into what amounts in his mind to a prison by civilians. But as he readjusts to civilian life, he begins to see the staff as his new family. It is not by telling the boys that they are blameless that the staff gain their trust, but instead by giving them the affection any child would want. Beah comes to understand he is deserving of that affection, and even moves in with his father’s brother. He goes to the UN to speak on the behalf of child soldiers and makes friends who he will eventually run to when the war reaches Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.

And when it does, Beah loses his country. His uncle dies, and he flees for the border, leaving his old life behind. But by then he has seen enough, and seen enough of the world outside of Sierra Leone, that he does not lose hope, knowing that he has friends in the United States who he can reach out to.

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Companionship, Hope, and the Self ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Companionship, Hope, and the Self appears in each chapter of A Long Way Gone. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Companionship, Hope, and the Self Quotes in A Long Way Gone

Below you will find the important quotes in A Long Way Gone related to the theme of Companionship, Hope, and the Self.
Chapter 5 Quotes

We decided to leave the village the next day and go somewhere safe, somewhere far away from where we were. We had no idea where we would go or even how to get to a safe place, but we were determined to find one.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Junior , Talloi , Khalilou , Gibrilla , Kaloko
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

The boys have endured a great deal of danger and fear so far. Their families have been hurt, and their village has been largely destroyed, due to the war in Sierra Leone. In this passage, Beah and his peers have managed to escape from a group of dangerous rebels. While they've been hanging around the area where they were born and live, they decide that there's no point in staying there any longer.

The passage reinforces the fact that Beah's hometown is no longer a safe place. For a long time, Beah thought of the war as a faraway event, irrelevant to his own life. But now that the war has come to his own village, Beah has no choice but to keep moving--everything he had previously taken for granted has been lost.


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Chapter 6 Quotes

Being in a group of six boys was not to our advantage… People were terrified of boys our age. Some had heard rumors about young boys being forced by rebels to kill their families and burn their villages.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Junior , Talloi , Khalilou , Gibrilla , Kaloko
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

Beah and his companions are trying to find safety. They're not affiliated with any rebels--they just want to be somewhere out of danger. And yet because they're a fairly large group, villagers distrust them. The villagers have heard that the rebels train boys to shoot their own families, as well as strangers.

The passage foreshadows some of the actions that the soldiers of the civil war will force Beah and his peers to perform. For now, though, Beah regards it as bizarre that the villagers would think him capable of killing anybody--he's still just a kid, far removed from doing harm of any kind to other people. It's also worth noting that despite the risks, the boys still stay together--companionship and a sense of human connection is sometimes more important than erring on the side of safety.

This was one of the consequences of civil war. People stopped trusting each other, and every stranger became an enemy. Even people who knew you became extremely careful about how they related or spoke to you.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Junior , Talloi , Khalilou , Gibrilla , Kaloko
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

Beah's book is about his own personal experiences in the war in Sierra Leone. And yet at times, Beah writes about the country as a whole, and how civil war tore it apart. One longterm consequence of the war was that people stopped trusting each other: once they saw how evil other human beings could act, they stopped being so faithful to their neighbors and friends. The people of Sierra Leone were desperate--they wanted to survive, and sometimes survival meant hurting or killing other people. After the war, it's suggested, the population of the country was deeply disillusioned with itself and with humanity in general: as a result, people became less generous, less friendly, and less trusting.

Chapter 8 Quotes

When I was very little, my father used to say, “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.”

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Beah’s Father
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Beah--all alone in the wilderness--finds the courage and optimism to keep moving. He remembers when his father told him to look ahead to a "better day." Beah's father's point seems to be that life itself is a gift, and therefore worth being happy about. Beah is hungry and lonely, but he's alive, and therefore he should strive to protect himself and seek help.

The passage suggests one of the reasons that we're reading Beah's story in the first place. There's a kind of "reporting bias" involved in the book itself: Beah is an unusually strong and optimistic person; therefore, he finds the courage to survive, and eventually manages to come to America. There are many other children in Sierra Leone who weren't as lucky as Beah. While Beah is certainly lucky, it's suggested that he also managed to survive in part because of his own innate optimism and inner strength.

Our innocence had been replaced by fear and we had become monsters. There was nothing we could do about it. Sometimes we ran after people shouting that we were not what they thought, but this made them more scared.

Related Characters: Saidu , Jumah , Moriba , Alhaji , Kanei , Musa
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Beah unites with some other homeless boys wandering through the forest. Beah knows that it's a bad idea to join up with other boys, because they can easily be mistaken for rebels of some kind, and therefore the villagers won't trust them. But because Beah is so starved for company, he joins with the other boys: his need for company wins out against his need for safety.

The passage underscores how much Sierra Leone has changed in just a short while. Beah's community is in ruins, and the country as a whole seems to have become justifiably paranoid and frightened. Beah and his friends are assumed to be dangerous, and nothing Beah says can convince the traumatized villagers of Sierra Leone otherwise.

Chapter 10 Quotes

Every time people come at us with the intention of killing us, I close my eyes and wait for death. Even though I am still alive, I feel like each time I accept death, part of me dies. Very soon I will complete die and all that will be left is my empty body walking with you.

Related Characters: Saidu (speaker), Ishmael Beah, Jumah , Moriba , Alhaji , Kanei
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Saidu, one of the boys who wanders with Beah, says that he feels that he's getting steadily weaker with each impending threat he faces. Saidu explains that each time he has a brush with death a part of him dies. One might think that surviving death would strengthen Saidu, but for him precisely the opposite is true: the constant threat of danger just fills Saidu with despair. Accepting death totally means letting go of life's value, even if one keeps living.

The passage mirrors the despair that the other boys, including Beah, feel as the war in Sierra Leone continues. And yet it's important to note that it's Saudi, not Beah, who voices his despair in this chapter. Perhaps Beah is a more optimistic and hopeful child than others of his peers. 

Even though our journey was difficult, every once in a while we were able to do something that was normal and made us happy for a brief moment.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Saidu , Jumah , Moriba , Alhaji , Kanei , Musa
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

Beah notes that although his life as a wanderer is hard, there are occasional moments that help him survive--for instance, he and his peers come to a village where the villagers give them a feast. Beah's point is that happy moments, like the feast in the village, sustain him and his peers, so that when they encounter a tragic or frightening time, they still have enough energy and spirit to carry on instead of giving up.

The passage reinforces the point that optimism and happiness are key parts of survival. It's so easy to give up in the middle of a crisis like the one Beah faces, and so moments of happiness (and in his case, childlike innocence) act as vital motivators, saving Beah from total, destructive despair.

I longed for the gentle, dark, and shiny old hands of my grandmother; my mother’s tight enclosed embrace, during the times I visited her, as if hiding and protecting me from something; my father’s laughter when we played soccer together and when he sometimes chased me in the evening with a bowl of cold water to get me to take a shower; my older brother’s arms around me when we walked to school and when he sometimes elbowed me to stop me from saying things I would regret; and my little brother, who looked exactly like me and would sometimes tell people that his name was Ishmael when he did something wrong.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Junior , Beah’s Mother , Beah’s Father , Beah’s Younger Brother , Beah’s Grandmother
Page Number: 71-72
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Beah and his peers arrive at a village that treats the boys with kindness and hospitality. Beah is offered a delicious feast, and afterwards, overcome by the good experience, he remembers his relationship with his grandmother, his mother, his brothers, and his father. Happiness, it's suggested, triggers more happiness: when Beah has a happy experience at the village feast, he's reminded of the other happy moments in his life.

The passage conveys both joy and despair. Beah's memories of his family members fill him with happiness, and yet they also remind him of his present misery: he is separated not only from his family but from his entire community, and seemingly from the promise of more lasting happiness in the future.

Chapter 20 Quotes

At the end of these long discussions our faces and eyes glittered with hope and the promise of happiness. It seemed we were transforming our suffering as we talked about ways to solve their causes and let them be known to the world.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Laura Simms , Bah , Dr. Tamba
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final chapters of the book, Beah--rescued from his life as a child soldier in the army in Sierra Leone--is taken to be with a United Nations worker named Laura Simms. Laura is leading a workshop program designed to offer aid and comfort to the children who've been forced to fight as soldiers in Sierra Leone. Simms focuses her workshop on communication and expression; she believes that the best way to get past guilt and self-hatred is to express one's feelings clearly and openly (a thesis that lies at the center of Beah's book itself). Beah seems to respond to Laura's methods: he recognizes that he needs to talk to other people about what he went through, rather than trying to deal with his pain on his own.

I joined the army to avenge the deaths of my family and to survive, but I’ve come to learn that if I am going to take revenge, in that process I will kill another person whose family will want revenge, then revenge and revenge and revenge will never come to an end.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Laura Simms , Bah , Dr. Tamba
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Beah is sent to speak before the United Nations Council about his time as a soldier in the civil war. Beah's teachers give him a prepared speech, which they encourage him to read. And yet Beah prefers to speak for himself, showing that he's learned something from Laura Simms: speaking for oneself is the only way to feel better and accept oneself. In his speech, Beah talks about how the commanders in the army tried to manipulate the child soldiers to kill other people by telling them that they'd be getting revenge for their own families' deaths. In doing so, the military set off an endless cycle of revenge: each death invited another death in vengeance.

Beah's point, taken literally, is that Sierra Leone must break out of the cycle of violence and vengeance and instead use peace and understanding to solve its problems. His point can also be taken more generally, however: all countries (i.e., those represented at the United Nations) should use communication and openness instead of nuclear weapons and guns, and all individual people should learn to forgive and work together instead of rushing into an "eye-for-an-eye" mentality.