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

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The boys walk for days, but Ishmael cannot remember how many. Suddenly, they are stopped by two government soldiers with rifles who take them to another village. Along the way, they see two dead bodies that make Ishmael want to vomit. One of the soldiers smiles and says, “You will get used to it. Everybody does.” They are taken downriver to Yele, which is occupied by the military. In the beginning, it seems that they have finally found safety. The village is always full of lively chatter and laughter, and all that ever darkens it for Ishmael is the sight of orphaned children. Apart from this, there are no indications that their childhood is threatened, much less that they will be robbed of it.

The boys are given jobs working in the kitchen and Ishmael is glad for the work that distracts him from thoughts of his family. He is suffering severe migraines since finding his family dead in the village. Everyone else settles in to every day life once more. Then, one morning the atmosphere in the village became suddenly tense. All the soldiers assembled in the square in their uniforms and were addressed for hours by Lieutenant Jacobi. The villagers walked about all day speculating what the lieutenant was telling his men. Later, during one of his walks, Ishmael walks by the lieutenant’s home where the man is sitting on the verandah reading Shakespeare. He calls Ishmael over and talks to him about this great writer and is pleasantly surprised when Ishmael is able to recite whole passages from Shakespearean plays, which he used to do for the adults of his own village. IN the middle of that night, the soldiers leave and order the residents to go inside and stay low to the ground. They spent the night listening to the rapid bursts of gunfire in the distance.

In the morning, the soldiers return, that is the ones who are able to make it back. The civilians say little to each other as they can only watch the madness unfold in front of them. They can no longer hide the truth: the war is near. The sound of gunfire comes nearer and nearer. Wounded soldiers are brought back for medical care, but most die. Prisoners are brought back as well and then are promptly shot in the head. This goes on for days and some of the soldiers left behind even become restless and shoot civilians on their way to the latrines. Everyone is then gathered in the square, and the lieutenant tells the villagers that they rebels will not give up until they capture the village, because they want the guns and ammunition. He says that the village is surrounded, but the villagers are free to leave. They only want people who can cook, prepare ammunition, and fight. The next morning, they are expected to line up in the square again and the soldiers will choose people for various tasks that will have to be carried out. The boys go to their sleeping places and discuss what they are going to do. Alhaji finally voices the truth, “It is better to stay here for now.” They have no choice. Leaving the village is as good as being dead.

When they gather in the square the next morning, the lieutenant shows them two dead bodies, one the father and the other the son, who had tried to leave the village and were murdered by the rebels. He then goes on to describe what the rebels have been doing: cutting off heads in front of family members, burning entire villages along with their inhabitants, forcing sons to have sex with their own mothers, hacking newborn babies in half because they cry too much, and cutting open the bellies of pregnant women and killing the children. He says the rebels have lost everything that makes them human and it is now time to make a stand against them. He orders all the women and girls to the kitchen and all the men and boys to the ammunition depot. When they arrive A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah - MonkeyNotes by 17 Copyright © 2008, All Rights Reserved. No further distribution without written consent. there, there are more than thirty boys, two of whom are only seven and eleven. Their names are Sheku and Josiah and they stand close to Ishmael for guidance. After the soldiers give all of them a gun, he says that everyone has two things in common: they are afraid of looking a man in the eye and afraid of holding a gun. He says, “This gun will soon belong to you, so you better learn not to be afraid of it.”

That night, Ishmael lies awake as usual, but this time without a migraine. He ponders why this is so when a cock suddenly crows and then proceeds to crow all night until morning finally comes. It is a disquieting sound. The next day, the boys receive army shirts and shorts and new shoes. Ishmael receives Reebok pumps and is happier about that than anything else going on. When a soldier take his old pants to throw in the fire, Ishmael remembers his rap tapes, but he is too late and they are lost to the flames. Sheku and Josiah stay close to him and imitate everything he does, but Ishmael is not much of a role model, because he had never held a gun before and it frightens him.

The boys continue training exercises with AK-47s that contain no ammunition. The guns are too heavy for the little boys, so the soldiers bring out stools that they can prop up their guns for target practice. The lieutenant motivates the boys by telling them that the boy or man they are going to kill killed their parents and their family and are responsible for everything that has happened to them. They then learn how to load the guns with ammunition and how to dismantle them and oil them so they won’t misfire. These boys are being sent into battle with old guns that often break down. That night, Ishmael lies awake listening to a boy named Lansana hum melodies Ishmael has never heard until he falls asleep. This boy has done this since they had their first shooting exercise. It is another example of each boy deals with the loss of his childhood.


This chapter is full of ironies. First, the boys arrive in a village, which seems to be acting normally and living life as they always have. The soldiers are there to protect the village, but the truth is the rebels are greater in number and heading their way. The new army is made up of boys, some as young as seven. The little soldiers can’t even hold up their guns, because they’re too heavy. The cock crows all night rather than in the morning and the only way one boy can fall asleep is by singing to himself. Life has become far too tenuous for Ishmael and his friends.

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