A Long Way Gone


Ishmael Beah

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on A Long Way Gone can help.
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.

Children in War

A Long Way Gone is the autobiography of a boy soldier, Ishmael Beah, who as a boy was afflicted by and then coerced to participate in the Sierra Leone Civil War as a boy soldier. Narratives of war often involve a loss of innocence, where dreams of glory are replaced by a realization of the horror of war, but a narrative of a child soldier is something else. It is the story of not only…

read analysis of Children in War

The Horror of War

Beah’s memoir is an act of witness. He relates gruesome violence so that the reader might understand what his life was like, what the war was like. The hope is also that he might draw enough attention to what happened in Sierra Leone so other atrocities might be stopped before they begin.

When the memoir begins, war is just a rumor to Beah. He doesn’t believe it will ever reach him. Refugees who pass through…

read analysis of The Horror of War

Companionship, Hope, and the Self

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…

read analysis of Companionship, Hope, and the Self
Get the entire A Long Way Gone LitChart as a printable PDF.
A Long Way Gone PDF

Guilt and Responsibility

War is fertile ground for feelings of regret and guilt. Although as a manipulated child soldier, Beah can never be said to be at fault, his actions as a child soldier are often at odds with the person he imagined himself to be. Beah experiences himself firing the gun or slitting the throat—because he did fire the gun and slit the throat—and therefore cannot help but feel he is responsible for the pain he causes.

read analysis of Guilt and Responsibility


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…

read analysis of Nature