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

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



War is Hell

The first and most important theme is War is Hell. The sheer horror of the images Ishmael relates reinforces this theme. Civilians became the victims of rebel soldiers who were attempting to create the ultimate fear through unbelievable atrocities. What makes the theme even more poignant, however, is the loss of young boys to the life of soldiers where they lived lives filled with drugs, killing, and personal deprivation. It seems like a situation that can never be resolved and that makes it an even greater hell. A whole country’s culture and infrastructure is nearly destroyed in the quest for power on the part of as handful of evil men.

There is Always Hope

The second theme is There is always Hope. Just when Ishmael seems to be totally lost in the horrors of war, doomed to eventually die at the hands of a soldier just a little bit faster with his gun, he is found by UNICEF and taken to a rehabilitation center for help. He is almost damaged beyond redemption, but the staffers, especially Esther, never giving up on him, seeming to recognize his potential, and leading him out of despair. They don’t expect to do it on their own, however. They rely on the inner strength of Ishmael himself and can only be proud when the potential they recognized is realized.

When Everything Else is Gone, There is Always Love

A final theme tells us when everything else disappears there is love. Ishmael lost his entire family to the atrocities of the rebels. Later, he watches as comrades and friends die around him. He sees civilians die in horrible ways, and he himself kills indiscriminately. However, in spite of all these setbacks, he finds new support in Benin House, new friends in people like Esther and Laura, and a new family with Uncle Tommy. In every instance, he is surrounded with love and hope for his future. So, in the end, with the help of Ishmael’s own inner strength and capacity for love, he is redeemed to live a life of peace and contribution to the wellbeing of others.


The style is very straightforward and graphic. Ishmael leaves nothing to the imagination about the atrocities of the civil war and his own bloodthirsty behavior. However, he also relates the hope still existing in his life in a way that makes the reader hope that someday we will no longer turn to war.


The rising action begins in 1993 when we meet Ishmael and his family in Sierra Leone where rebels have begun a civil war that seems too far away to interfere in his life. It continues with the breakdown of society until Ishmael makes the decision to leave his birthplace and make his way to the United States.


The falling action involves Ishmael’s long and harrowing journey out of Sierra Leone to Guinea and thence to New York City.


The point of view is first person throughout the narrative as it is told from the experiences of Ishmael Beah, the boy soldier.

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 %>