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

Previous Page | Table of Contents | Next Page
Downloadable / Printable Version




Ishmael feels that the most unsettling thing about his journey is that he isnít sure when or where it is going to end. To survive each passing day is his only goal. He finds it much easier to be sad than to go back and forth between emotions. One night when he is outside in a village square, he looks into the sky and sees how the thick clouds keep trying to cover the moon and yet the moon reappears again and again to shine all night long. He thinks that in some way, his journey is like that of the moon although he has even more clouds coming his way to make his spirit dull. It reminds him of Saiduís words when he said, ďHow many more times do we have to come to terms with death before we find safety? . . . Even though I am still alive, I feel like each time I accept death, part of me dies. Very soon I will completely die and all that will be left is my empty body walking with you. It will be quieter than I am.Ē His words will be cruelly foreshadowed in the days ahead.

Ishmael points out that even though their journey is difficult, every once in a while they are able to do something that is normal and makes them happy for the moment. This happens when they arrive in a village where they are greeted warmly and asked to go hunting with the men. When they come back from the hunt, there is a big celebration planned. Ishmael wanders around the village stopping to rest on a hammock. It is her that he is reminded of the times he would sleep on the hammock at his grandmotherís farm and fight with Junior for the right to do so. To get his way, he would rig the hammock so that it fell apart just as Junior got comfortable and when he wandered away, Ishmael would take over the hammock once again. His grandmother knew about his tricks and called him carseloi, which means spider. In many stories of his culture, the spider is the character that tricks other animals to get what he wants, but his tricks always backfire on him. Now, the memory makes Ishmael stop and reflect about his family and the pain returns again.

That evening, the food is brought to the village square and everyone eats and dances. The women sing of all the gossip, dramas, and fights that had happened that year and Ishmael wonders if they will be able to sing about all that will happen by the end of the war. He also wonders why these villagers are so kind to them when other villages had chased them away or threatened their lives. However, he stops dwelling on why when the people continue to greet them with nothing but blessings. The villagers even invite the boys to dance with them, but gradually they stop as if they all know that they can be happy only for a brief moment. Then, they leave, moving on to the next village.

The next village is very peculiar in that there is only one large house with a nearby kitchen. It was used for some kind of production of palm oil. They settle in for the night where Musa insists on telling the story of Bra Spider. This story is an explanation for why spiders have thin waists and they all have heard it many times growing up. They all then look for some moments of sleep. Ishmael canít seem to find it and instead remembers his grandmother telling him all about his name giving ceremony. When she would relate how his father held him in the air for the entire village to see, he would think about how he had become a member of the community and was owned and cared for by all.

The boys had left their smoked meat outside the hut on the veranda, but when they awake, it is gone. They see a dog in the distance and chase it, but it backs up in a threatening manner, holding onto whatís left of the meat for itself. They have to give up the chase, but they wonder if they should have killed the dog and eaten it. It is a sign of how desperate their situation really is. They are forced to rummage the bushes for any fruit they can find.

Ishmael now takes the time to relate where all the boys were when the attack on Mattru Jong took place. It reinforces the confusion and tragedy of families being separated and forever lost. They continue walking now mostly at night. It feels as if they are walking with the moon. It follows them behind the clouds and waits for them at the end of dark forests. However, its brightness becomes dull as the nights pass and the shooting stars seem to be the moon weeping. It is as if the sky is telling them a story as the stars fell, violently colliding with each other while the moon hid behind the clouds to avoid seeing what is happening. Later, when they are walking during the day, a crow suddenly just falls out of the sky. They quickly pick it up and prepare to cook it even though they fear it is a curse or a sign of bad luck. That night, the dark seems too dark and they suddenly hear footsteps coming the other way as they are starting across a bridge of sticks. Quickly, they find hiding places while they watch three people come across tentatively as if they sense the boysí presence. Finally, the strangers leave and the boys come out from where they have been breathlessly laying. All except Saidu. He doesnít answer when they call out to him. He just lies there saying nothing and not moving. Time passes and dawn arrive, but still Saidu lies there with sweat on his forehead and his mouth slightly open. They know they cannot leave him, but they also know they must move on. So Kanei picks him up on his back and they cross the bridge. Just as they get across, Saidu begins to cough and when they want to allow him to rest, he insists they keep going. Musa notes that he awoke from the dead with a real attitude!

At midday, they arrive at a very crowded village. They are shocked at how noisy it is in the middle of a war. As they walk through it, they see some familiar faces and one woman insists she knows Ishmael. She says she has seen Junior just a few weeks before and he had been looking for Ishmael. She also says that she saw his mother, father, and little brother in the next village, just two daysí walk away. So, they decide to spend the night in that village and leave the next morning. They steal a pot of rice and cassava leaves and then lay down to sleep. However, Ishmael canít sleep once more. He is shaking and he has a feeling something bad is going to happen. Then, the dogs begin to howl and run from one end of the village to the other. Their howls wake up Alhaji, who says that something must be wrong, but he soon falls back asleep. When they awake in the morning, Alhaji and Ishmael begin waking their other friends, but once again Saidu doesnít answer. This time, however, he isnít just in a trance, but really dead. They wash and prepare his body for burial immediately, because in this village, the dead are not allowed to be kept unburied overnight. So they leave Saidu behind and as they try to sleep one more night, Ishmael finds himself calling out his friendsí names all night long to make sure they havenít died as well. He feels as if they have no control over their future. They only know how to survive.


Saiduís prediction about how he will die comes true in a bizarre way. He seems to die twice after the bad omen of the dead crow and it devastates Ishmael even as he feels happiness that his family is to be found in the next village.

Previous Page | Table of Contents | Next Page
Downloadable / Printable Version

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah Free BookNotes Summary

Cite this page:

Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Long Way Gone". . <% varLocale = SetLocale(2057) file = Request.ServerVariables("PATH_TRANSLATED") Set fs = CreateObject("Scripting.FileSystemObject") Set f = fs.GetFile(file) LastModified = f.datelastmodified response.write FormatDateTime(LastModified, 1) Set f = Nothing Set fs = Nothing %>