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Study Guide: A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah: Book Summary

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FREE STUDY NOTES / CHAPTER SUMMARY: A LONG WAY GONE - ISHMAEL BEAH

CHAPTER TWO

Summary

The chapter opens with Ishmael once again fighting a dream. This time, it isnít something his mind imagines, but an actual memory mixed up with his imagination. He is pushing a wheelbarrow with a dead body in it, and there are other bodies bleeding and dying all around him. He doesnít know why he is taking this particular body to the cemetery, but he pushes on, oblivious to the cries of the dying. The body is wrapped in a white bed sheet and after Ishmael pulls it to the ground, he begins to unwrap it, noting that there are bullets all the way from his feet to his neck. He lifts the cloth and sees his own face. When he forces himself awake, he realizes he is in New York City where he is starting his new life. However, he canít keep his waking mind from drifting back to Sierra Leone where he remembers carrying an AK-47 and walking with a squad of many boys and a few adults. They were on their way to attack a small town that had ammunition and food. They engage an enemy squad in a firefight and kill them all. This squad had consisted of young boys like them, but they didnít care. They gave each other high fives and took the ammunition from the bodies. Then, they sat down on the bodies and ate their food while fresh blood leaked out all around them.


Ishmael gets up off the floor where he had been sleeping, determined to stay awake so as not to dream again. He knows the dreams are an important part of what his life is and who he is now. However, he wishes he could wash them away. He stays awake all night, waiting for daylight. He wants to return to his new life where he has a joy that stays inside him even when life itself becomes a burden. He feels he lives in three worlds now: his dreams, the experiences of his new life, and the memories from the past.

Notes

The imagery in this chapter is a jarring contrast to chapter one when Ishmael played music and went to school and had a loving family. It is filled with memories and dream imagery that are horrifying to both Ishmael and the reader.


CHAPTER THREE

Summary

Ishmael and his brother stay in Mattru Jong longer than they anticipate. They donít know where else to go or what else to do except wait for news of their families. They hear through rumors that the rebels are in Sumbaya, a town twenty miles or so north of Mattru Jong. The rumors are replaced by letters sent by survivors of the massacre there. They simply say that the rebels are coming and wish to be welcomed since they are fighting for them. Then, they send a messenger who frightens the people, because he is a young boy who has branded with the letters RUF (Revolutionary United Front) and who had had all but his thumbs amputated in imitation of how people before the war using a thumbs up to express to each other ďone love.Ē It is a kind of warning in a bizarre, terrifying fashion. The people are so frightened by this messenger that they immediately go into hiding, but Khalilouís family asks all the boys to stay with them to carry away their belongings when the rebels arrive.

That night, Ishmael realizes for the first time that it is the physical presence of people and their spirits that gives a town life. When all the people go into hiding, even nature becomes afraid of what will happen. The crickets and birds stop singing and darkness seems to come on very fast. The moon isnít in the sky and the air is stiff. Fear is everywhere.

However, the rebels donít come when they say they will, and people begin to return to the town. The place becomes alive again, and five days go by peacefully. Ishmael takes walks in the night and sees the women cooking, a task that is never taught to boys. However, he is reminded of how his own mother taught him to cook for his palampo life (single life). She would pause in the lesson and remind him that he must not be a palampo forever, because she wanted grandchildren. This memory brings tears to his eyes.

Ironically, when the rebels finally arrive, Ishmael is cooking. He and his friends and his brother hear gunshots and hesitate whether to run or not. The shots stop for fifteen minutes, and they continue with their normal activities. Then, all hell breaks loose as the gunshots begin again, and everyone runs in confusion right over those who have fallen. Families are separated, and children cry for their mothers. Then, the rebels enter the village shooting into the air and forming a semi-circle in the square. They force the civilians toward the river, because they have blocked the road out of town. The government soldiers have already left town, knowing they are out-numbered. The panicked townspeople continue towards the river, running through a swamp, while the rebels begin shooting at them. They donít want the people to leave, because they want to use them, especially the women and children, a shield against government troops. Nonetheless, the people keep running. Ishmael, Junior, and the other boys know they especially must get away. If captured, they will be branded and recruited into the rebel forces. Whatís worse, the brand will mark them to government soldiers as the enemy, and they will open fire and kill them immediately. So, they continue to run from bush to bush, and Ishmael tells the reader that this is just the beginning of many risky situations to come. They stop for no one, because that means sure death. They see body after body fall around them, but their bodies continue to move automatically, running for over an hour without stopping. Some of the rebels come after them firing RPG and grenades. Every so often, Ishmael hears his brotherís voice asking if he is alright. He can hear the sadness in Juniorís voice while his own response is marked by a tremble in his voice. Finally, the rebels give up and the boys continue on.

Notes

This chapter is filled with contrasts, especially the days of peace versus the days of war. There is also the contrast of Ishmael cooking dinner as gunshots ring out throughout the town. There is the contrast of people running for their lives over the bodies of those who have fallen. Finally, there is the contrast of a town filled with sounds of life and one filled with fear and death. Ishmael, Junior and the other boys are now officially on the run.


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