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

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Ishmael’s migraines stop as his daily activities are replaced with more soldiering. He takes turns as the guard posts around the village and becomes addicted to marijuana, cocaine and white capsules. When he first takes these drugs in combination, he acts in a more than bizarre manner, but eventually, he comes to feel only numbness to everything and so much energy that he can’t sleep for weeks. He and the other boys watch war and commando movies when they aren’t raiding rebel camps and attacking civilian villages to capture recruits. The idea of death never crosses his mind during this time and killing becomes as easy as drinking water. His mind had snapped with that first killing, and it caused him to feel no remorse for what he does.

On a typical raid, Ishmael and the boys surround a rebel camp and wait for the lieutenant’s command. Ishmael gets angrier and angrier as he comes to believe that these look just like the rebels who killed his family and played cards in the ruins of the village. “So he shoots as many as he can even though it doesn’t make him feel any better.” After they capture some prisoners on one raid, the lieutenant lines them up and demands to know where they got their ammunition. One of the rebels spits in the man’s face, so the lieutenant shoots him in the head while the troops cheer his boldness. Then, a rebel, who has been hiding in the bushes, shoots Lansana in the head and chest, and when they capture him, the lieutenant cuts his throat. Again, the boys cheer him.

When the military troops come to a new village, the lieutenant lines up the civilians and speaks to them about how his troops are there to protect them and for that reason, they should offer their respect for the boys’ service. As for the troops themselves, the corporal tells them, “This gun is your source of power in these times. It will protect you and provide you all you need, if you know how to use it well.” But for the boys, they are always either at the front lines, watching a war movie, or doing drugs. There is no time to be alone or even think about these men say.

The lieutenant’s next move is to teach the young boys to kill as brutally as he had killed the prisoners a few days before. He holds a contest between Kanei, three other boys and Ishmael in which prisoners are brought forward, one for each boy. The object of the game is to slit the throats of the prisoners, looking them in their faces, with the winner being the one whose prisoner dies the quickest. Ishmael’s prisoner shows enormous courage as he stares in Ishmael’s eyes. However, Ishmael doesn’t think much about what he is doing; he just imitates the lieutenant’s motives and is declared the winner. The audience claps as if he has just fulfilled one of life’s greatest achievements. Later, Ishmael returns to his tent, one he shares with no one, and imagines he hears Lansana humming softly to put himself asleep. He listens to this voice in his head and then fires a few rounds from his rifle to drive the humming away.


This chapter is very graphic in explaining the life Ishmael has come to live – a life that is filled with actual violence, drugs, and violent movies. These boys have seen so many horrors that they have become immune to any emotions other than anger and a desire to kill those they perceive have been responsible for the deaths of their family.

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