When people talk about childhood it’s usually a happy conversation filled with lots of laughter, happiness, and remembering the innocence. In the memoir A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, this is not the case. In the beginning it starts off with Ishmael as an innocent child who loves rap music, but it all get destroyed in the blink of an eye. War and innocence are two things that should never mix, but in A Long Way Gone they mix beyond separation. So many children from Sierra Leone got caught up in the war, and were forced to do things that even grown men shouldn’t have to do. They were forced to kill people in inhumane ways and do drugs. Childhood is something that should be shielded from war and destruction at all costs; Beah’s true innocence is lost through forced immoral actions.
The war that changed everyone’s life in Sierra Leone took everything from everyone; It stripped down people to nothing. The rebels took families, killed them, took all their belongings, took the children and made them drug addict killers. Unfortunately, Ishmael Beah was subject to it all. While reading A Long Way Gone, Beah clearly shows the gradual slipping of his childhood. He reflects on a memory of himself realizing how different was from before the war started when he says, “One evening we actually chased a little boy who was eating two boiled ears of corn himself” (30). The loss of being innocent started off when the boys got really hungry. The war had kicked them into the woods to fend for themselves, and they had no choice but to start doing bad things for food. Like chasing that little boy and stealing his corn. They slowly became savages, but couldn’t help themselves. They had to become thieves and also try to justify what they were doing by telling themselves that it was necessary.
After a while of stealing and forgetting about who Ishmael used to be, the rap music would come back up to remind him. Ishmael tells his readers about the last time his rap music came up as a reminder of his innocence while he was caught up in the war, when he says, “I ran toward the fire, but the cassettes had already started to melt. Tears formed in my eyes, and my lips shook as I turned away” (110). At this point Ishmael has been through so much and is so lost in the war, but when he gets his new clothes, and his old ones get burned with his cassettes in them, that’s where his childhood is lost forever. That’s the point where the innocence went into the fire and melted away. He has nothing to hold on to anymore to remind him of his old life. All children must have had their equivalent to rap music. All of them must have lost something that symbolized their last hope to remember who they were.
The way all the children lost their childhoods and their identities does not go in vain in this story. But the point of Beah writing about it all is to get it out there. He claims this when he says, “Because if I was to get killed upon my return, I knew that a memory of my existence was alive somewhere in the world” (200). When he spoke at the UN conference he realized that all of what he’s been through isn’t for nothing. All that he went through in the war and the recovery afterward wasn’t just going to be forgotten. People will hear his story and they’ll try to help the other kids still out there. He can make something good out of all of it. So he wrote it down. His story is now out there for everyone to remember and reflect on at any point.
Ishmael Beah realizes that his childhood is lost forever. Ishmael ponders over the idea of his lost childhood when he says, “I tried to think about my childhood days, but it was impossible.” Too much horror and destruction has happened to Ishmael for childhood and innocence to comeback. Killing people non-stop in extremely violent ways takes a big part of that away. But he has come to terms with it and is trying to move on now in New York City, but he has also realized how important innocence and childhood really are. War and childhood are so opposite. They have nothing in common and should never mix. Unfortunately they do though. The war in Sierra Leone took Ishmael for everything he had. It took his family, his childhood and his innocence. Which are things you can never get back when they’re gone.
A Long Way Gone is a book that should be read by everyone. It would teach all it’s readers about what really happens in that part of the world and it would open peoples eyes to what is happening to all the children over there. This book has enough power to change things, which is exactly what Ishmael’s intentions were. Like the last story he tells in the book about the monkey. The story is about making an important decision that will hurt people either way but he chooses the option that relieves other people from having to choose. That story shapes the entire book; innocent children having to make difficult decisions, and Ishmael makes the harder decision for himself, but makes it easier for other people. Which is his entire book; trying to tell everyone about his journey so no one has to ever go through what he did.