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

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There are several literary devices that pop up at various times in the story. One of the most prevalent ones is foreshadowing, which frequently presents clues of something that will happen later in the novel. Some examples of foreshadowing include:

1. Ishmael is only ten years old at beginning, and his imagination doesn’t have the capacity to understand what refugee children have witnessed. This foreshadows his own haunted and desolate look after war invades his life.

2. Ishmael and his friends loaded their backpacks with their cassettes and lyrics they were working on as well as several layers of clothes on their bodies for the days they would be gone. They had no idea that this unusual way of dressing would benefit them later. They also never said goodbye or told anyone where they were going, because they had no idea they were leaving, never to return.

3. Ishmael, Junior, and the other boys know they must get away. If captured, they will be branded and recruited into the rebel forces. What’s 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.

4. Just like Junior, the other boys also seem different. They are restless and edgy, tapping their feet or breathing heavily. Khalilou sits too quietly as if he has lost his spirit. Ishmael tries to think of a way to break the silence, but he can’t think of one. Later, he wishes he had. This foreshadows his separation from them and the fact that he never sees them again.

5. Saidu said, “How 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.” His words will be cruelly foreshadowed in the days ahead when he dies almost exactly like he said he would.

6. Soon Kanei breaks the silence by saying that he has a feeling that they will find their families or at least news of them. This foreshadows the devastation of finding their families massacred.

7. The boys 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.

8. Ishmael says, “My squad is my family, my gun is my provider, and protector, and my rule is to kill or be killed.” His childhood has gone by without his knowing and it seems as if his heart has frozen. However, everything is about to change in January 1996.

9. Both Bah and Ishmael become close to Laura Simms during the conference. When she becomes Ishmael’s mom years later, she will always talk about whether it was coincidence or destiny that Ishmael came from a storytelling culture to live with a storytelling mother in New York City.

10. As Ishmael looks around Laura’s home in the East Village, he doesn’t know or can even imagine that someday it is going to be his home.

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