In the novel, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael Beah explores the theme of overwhelming fear and the terrible impact it has on people. The hysteria war releases is instantaneous and causes people to behave abnormally and destructively. It makes people disoriented and react panicky and in a peculiar manner. It spoils relationships and creates distrust among people; even family members. It affects every single decision a person makes, as fear of death pushes him to choose a certain path.
War creates a panic, which confuses people. Ishmael watches as the rebels fool with an old man, pretending to shoot him. The old man believes he is shot and runs around in circles, screaming in panic and faints. This is a proof as to how disorienting fear of death can be even to an old mature person. The boy also notices how family members run in all directions and don’t look out for their kin, when they are attacked all of a sudden.
The sound of the guns was so terrifying it confused everyone. No one was able to think clearly. In a matter of seconds, people started screaming and running in different directions, pushing and trampling on whoever had fallen on the ground. No one had the time to take anything with them. Everyone just ran to save his or her life. Mothers lost their children, whose confused, sad cries coincided with the gunshots. ( Beah, 24)
The effect of all this chaos on the children is that they become silent and do not wish to talk about anything among themselves. Yet, they cannot help being afflicted, as Ishmael is, by nightmares. He describes several of his nightmares in the novel, and also shares them with some of the characters in the book.
Setting the body on the ground, I start to unwrap it, beginning at the feet. All the way up to the neck, there are bullet holes. One bullet has crushed the Adam’s apple and sent the remains of it to the back of the throat. I lift the cloth from the body’s face. I am looking at my own (Beah 21)
When he sees the destruction of his family, his feelings of agony and disorientation are very acute, and he experiences physical illness.
I hissed and boiled, and my heart felt as if it was going to explode. At the same time, I felt as if something had literally been placed on my head, heavier than I could ever imagine, and my neck was beginning to ache. (Beah 76)
Fear destroys relationships. Ishmael remembers with sadness about the moment of alienation between him and Junior. In spite of their friendship and struggles together, once the rebels get them and choose to recruit Ishmael, Junior refuses to make eye contact with him. He cries over the instant loss of connection between them. Once when he is running alone, he meets a family, who refuse to interact with him. He comments,
. I was glad to see other faces and at the same time disappointed that the war had destroyed the enjoyment of the very experience of meeting people. Even a twelve-year-old couldn’t be trusted anymore (Beah 42)
That fear makes everyone feel distrust for other human beings, is proved again, when he and six other boys keep moving from village to village in search of safety. Rumors that they are dangerous precede them and they are greeted by empty villages. As one old man tells them,
“ People don’t trust each other anymore. Years ago, you would have been heartily welcomed in this village. I hope that you boys can find safety before this untrustworthiness and fear cause someone to harm you.” (Beah 49)
Sure enough, fishermen catch them, and as in this part of the country no one knows them and can identify them, they are beaten up, stripped off their shoes and chased into the hot roads. The same treatment is given to them again and again, when they are caught by village communities, who believe they are mercenaries or rebels.
The characters fear death above all things and this influences every single decision they make. After Ishmael escapes from Khamator and starts living in the bush, he decides to leave his group and escape alone. His reason is as follows:
I felt as if I was always waiting for death to come to me, so I decided to go somewhere where at least there was some peace. Kaloko was afraid to leave. He thought that by leaving the bush we would be walking toward death. He decided to stay in the swamp
He also notices how fear can make people decide to abandon a whole way of life. When he lives with the farming community at Khamator, he describes the skill of the farmers, the ability to hard labor; but that life ends because everyone runs away, leaving their produce to be eaten by animals. Each of the seven boys trying to escape from the war zone, has the same story to tell. He and his family, try to escape and in the frantic bid to outrun the rebels, get separated from their families, never to see them again. Fear numbs his body and he is able to run for an whole hour, go without sleep and food for two whole days and walk on the hot roads barefoot. And this fear is justified, for they end up in a village where hundreds of people are shut inside their homes and burnt to death. Ishmael’s family meets the same fate. Ishmael starts killing just in order to end his fear. This becomes obvious, when UNESCO officials take away his gun and he becomes very anxious. Violence becomes a habit and an addiction, just taking drugs does. He has started to believe that the violent life style of a soldier is his only antidote to fear.
My squad was my family, my gun was my provider and protector, and my rule was to kill or be killed. (Beah 98)
. The soldiers train him and convince him that he should fight and there was no other way they could survive. His first day as a soldier is a horrifying experience to him.
I lay there with my gun pointed in front of me, unable to shoot. My index finger had become numb. The forest had begun to spin. I felt as if the ground had turned upside down and I was going to fall off, so I clutched the base of a tree with one hand. I couldn’t think, but I could hear the sounds of the guns far away in the distance and the cries of people dying in pain. I had begun to fall into some sort of nightmare. (Beah 92)
However the continuous killing numbs his mind to the act. He stops feeling remorse, and with the aid of drugs, Killing becomes the only reality and his way of thinking and behavior becomes barbaric. It is when he is released from the clutches of fear after rehabilitation, and after getting into an environment warmed by love and security, Ishmael begins to feel sadness for what happened and longs for normalcy. He does things that any other person would do, such as listening to yarns, go to the pubs and talks to girls. But he is unable to talk about himself. Even after he gets accustomed to normal life, he finds it difficult to accept that people like the members of his uncle’s family could be so happy all the time, because his experience had taught him that happiness was temporary. It is only when he speaks at the conference in New York that he feels hope for the future and begins to speak about himself and the feelings of fear and revenge and the need to survive that made him a soldier.
In the end Ishmael is dismayed that war has struck the city, which has become his home. But this time he does not fear death. Instead he fears that he may become a soldier again. So he finds his way out of his country. War makes life horrible and it can be disorienting enough that we distrust everyone and make life altering decisions. This is particularly true of children. We should stop war, so that life does not become unbearable for the young people, who would experience disorientation, distrust and decide to take to the path of violence.
Our writers will create one from scratch for
– Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone : Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. Sarah Crichton Books, New York, Feb 13 2007. S
– Iweala, Uzodinma. Slaughter of Innocence. The Guardian. , http://www. guardian. co. uk/books/2007/may/26/featuresreviews. guardian 26 May 2007. Web. 25 May 2013.
– Crichton, Sarah. Editor and Author, Sarah Crichton and Ishmael Beah
http://www. fsgworkinprogress. com/2010/08/sarah-crichton-ishmael-beah/ 15 Aug 2010.
Web. 25 May 2013