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 Quotes in A Long Way Gone
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes night has a way of speaking to us, but we almost never listen.
The branches of the trees looked as if they were holding hands and bowing their heads in prayer.
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.