A Long Way Gone

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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.
Nature  Theme Icon

As a boy before the war, nature is essential to Beah’s understanding of the world. Its beauty seems to him not just good in itself, but a reminder of the essential goodness of the world. Beah often looks to the moon as a model of good behavior. As his grandmother says, “no one grumbles when the moon shines. Everyone becomes happy and appreciates the moon in their own special way.” In the narrative present, the moon also is, to Beah, a reminder of the happiness of his childhood. He can look to it and be happy that something of his past lives on.

Yet as the narrative progresses nature becomes more complicated. Nature often goes silent at times of great distress, and at other times, even foreshadows great difficulty. In the lead-up to the very first attack Beah witnesses, the normal sounds of night-time are missing. Bird and crickets don’t sing. Even the moon doesn’t come out. Beah remarks it was as if “nature itself was afraid of what was happening.”

As the boys are running or serving as soldiers in the army, nature’s “goodness” ceases to be so obvious. Although at times nature provides sustenance for the boys, at other times, Beah is so afraid he thinks that nature will kill him: “even the air seemed to want to attack me and break my neck.” And, indeed, nature does come for him at times: he’s chased by wild hogs at one point. At another, when the boys are one the run, they come upon the Atlantic Ocean and are stunned by its brilliance, especially in contrast to the sand. The waves are awesomely large. Then they are promptly chased onto the sand by villagers who assume them to be rebels. They now find the waves to be dangerously large, and the sand hot enough to burn them. Nature’s beauty proves to be deceptive, to be dangerous.

Ultimately, as Beah grows up, the simple view of nature as good is revealed as, well, simplistic. Nature is, rather, nature. It exists as itself, and does not care about the people fighting viciously within it. Beah remarks after one battle: “the rain washed the blood off the leaves as if cleaning the surface of the forest, but the dead bodies remained under the bushes.” Nature is no comfort anymore. It washes its own surfaces, but does nothing for the human dead.

Nature ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in A Long Way Gone related to the theme of Nature .
Chapter 1 Quotes

Whenever I get the chance to observe the moon now, I still see those same images I saw when I was six, and it pleases me to know that part of my childhood is still imbedded in me.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Moon
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Before the war, Beah learns to look up at the moon when he's feeling sad. The moon, at least for Ishmael, is a sign of happiness and peace: there's something comforting about the fact that no matter how bad things are on Earth, the moon will always be exactly the same. Years later (as he describes here), Ishmael will look at the moon with even greater fondness--after his horrible experiences in the civil wars of Sierra Leone, the moon will remind him to put his problems in perspective. Even more importantly, though, the moon reminds Ishmael that the trauma of war hasn't totally destroyed his innocence: there's still a part of him that can enjoy the simple sight of the moon rising in the night. His childhood was twisted and crushed by war, but a small part of it still remains "imbedded" in him.


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Chapter 8 Quotes

I felt as if somebody was after me. Often my shadow would scare me and cause me to run for miles. Everything felt awkwardly brutal. Even the air seemed to want to attack me and break my neck.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker)
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

As the situation in Sierra Leone deteriorates, Beah's situation becomes worse as well. Here, he's walking on his own, lonely and frightened. Beah moves through the forest, afraid to stop--it's as if he's being chased, though by whom Beah doesn't know. Beah is so frightened by what he's witnessed already that he's become perpetually paranoid. Even when there's no apparent danger around him, he assumes that he is in danger.

The passage reverses the spirit of the early chapters in that it shows nature as a place of danger, rather than a place of peace and rest. It's as if Sierra Leone itself has become an evil place, reflecting the vast political and social changes occurring within its borders.

Chapter 10 Quotes

Under those stars and sky I used to hear stories, but now it seemed as if it was the sky that was telling us a story as its stars fell, violently colliding with each other. The moon hid behind clouds to avoid seeing what was happening.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Moon
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Beah describes the moon again, but in a very different context than before. While before the moon was open and inviting, a symbol of the peacefulness of nature, the moon is now hidden away. It's as if the moon can't bear to see what's happening to Sierra Leone--the spectacle of war is too terrible to watch.

There aren't many lyrical passages of this kind in the novel--yet here, Beah uses personification and metaphor to convey the full extent of the crisis in his country. Nature itself has turned its back on Sierra Leone, to the point where the moon--an old symbol of peace and romance--has abandoned Beah when he needs it more than ever.

Sometimes night has a way of speaking to us, but we almost never listen.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker)
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the novel, Ishmael writes descriptions of the natural world, especially the night sky. At times, the night seems to offer a relief from the carnage and horror of Ishmael's life--it's comforting precisely because it's immune to the human changes in Ishmael's environment. Elsewhere, though, the night sky seems to respond to everything that's happened to Ishmael--it seems to give him advice and consolation, even warning him of future dangers. In short, as Ishmael says here, the night speaks to him.

Ishmael's ability to find solace in nature, one could argue, is a powerful survival mechanism. Ishmael is often incredibly lonely: without a family, and often without real friends, he's forced to turn to other places for comfort. (And yet even nature, as in the previous passage, often ignores him or seems to turn away.) Here, Ishmael suggests that his only friend is nature itself: he treats the night like a person, with whom he can at least have certain, limited interactions. Like a parent, the night offers Ishmael comfort and peace when no human being will give it to him.

Chapter 13 Quotes

The branches of the trees looked as if they were holding hands and bowing their heads in prayer.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker)
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Beah fights alongside Lieutenant Jabati's soldiers, killing a group of so-called rebels. Beah is terrified by his own actions: he's a child, and he's never murdered anyone, or even used a gun. Beah conveys the tragedy of the moment by comparing the shape of the tree branches to a pair of hands clasped in prayer. The message is clear: Beah has not only killed other human beings; he's lost his own childhood innocence to the madness of war. Beah isn't necessarily guilty of murder--he was manipulated and coerced into fighting, after all--but he'll have to live with his actions for the rest of his life, since he was the one who pulled the trigger. Previously, nature turned against Beah or gave him comfort in times of need, but here, it does neither one: it is a force detached from humanity's atrocities, praying for Beah's soul.

Chapter 16 Quotes

We fought all day in the rain. The forest was wet and the rain washed the blood off the leaves as if cleansing the surface of the forest, but the dead bodies remained under the bushes and the blood that poured out of the bodies stayed on top of the soaked soil, as if the soil had refused to absorb any more blood for that day.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Lieutenant Jabati , Alhaji
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Beah's memories of his time in Sierra Leone become vague and sketchy, reflecting the traumatic nature of his experiences. He recalls fighting alongside the army for many hours, even though it was raining outside. Beah was forced to fire a gun and kill supposed "rebels." At the end of the day, Beah stopped to survey the damage caused by the fighting: he saw that the ground was so soaked with blood that it bubbled up through the soil.

It's as if the natural world can't handle the violence and devastation that the soldiers of Sierra Leone have caused. In the first half of the book, nature was either antagonistic or supportive to Beah, but in the second half of the book, nature is more often than not portrayed as rejecting the sinful human race altogether. This tragic, lyrical passage thus encapsulates the way that nature remains detached from human violence and cruelty.