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.
Companionship, Hope, and the Self ThemeTracker
Companionship, Hope, and the Self Quotes in A Long Way Gone
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.