A Long Way Gone
Thematic Analysis of A Long Way Gone and Sold
In many parts of the world, child exploitation is an everyday activity that causes many children to be taken away from their families and friends. Child exploitation occurs mostly in areas such as Asia and Africa, but modern authors have described its horrors for readers on all continents. In the novel Sold by Patricia McCormick, a young, thirteen year-old girl named Lakshmi was sold into prostitution in India due to her lack of knowledge of the outside world. In the memoir A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, Ishmael was a twelve year-old child soldier in Sierra Leone who killed RUF rebels and plundered villages. Both Ishmael and Lakshmi faced difficulties that forced them to adapt to their violent and abusive situation in order to survive. Therefore, a theme that sustains both of the novels is that learning to adapt is necessary for survival during times of violence and abuse.
Lakshmi learns to adapt to prostitution during her times of abuse because she wanted survive; she becomes a prostitute in order to pay off her debt and she had to sleep with a large number of men. When Lakshmi was washing herself with a bucket of water, she realizes that “no matter how often I wash and scrub and wash and scrub, I cannot seem to rinse the men from my body” (McCormick 129). Lakshmi’s body is filled with the odor of men and she realized that she is slowly adapting to prostitution for her own survival. The theme also describes Lakshmi’s adaptation into prostitution when she imagines her life as a TV remote control. At the Happiness House, Lakshmi “pretend[s] that what goes on at night when the customers are here is not something that is happening to me. I pretend it is a TV show that I am watching from far, far away. I pretend I have a button I press to make everything go quiet” (McCormick 157). Lakshmi is pretending her life is shown from a TV’s point of view in order to cope with the abuse she receives at the brothel. Lakshmi also adapted to the unsanitary brothel and Mumtaz’s cruel abuse. After living at the Happiness House for a long time, Lakshmi had “no longer notice[d] the smell of the indoor privy. And I long ago stopped feeling the blows of Mumtaz’s strap” (McCormick 153). Lakshmi’s senses of smell and touch had already adapted to the Mumtaz’s abuse and the brothel’s foul odor because she wanted to survive in the brothel. In essence, the theme of learning to adapt is necessary for survival during times of violence and abuse fits in for Lakshmi because she had to adapt to the abuses at the Happiness House.
In a similar manner, Ishmael Beah also had to learn to adapt to war violence and abuse because it was the only way he could survive. Ishmael had used drugs to order to adapt to the harsh life of being a child soldier. Ishmael had “took turns at the guarding posts around the village, smoking marijuana and sniffing brown brown… They gave me a lot of energy” (Beah 121). In order to adapt to times of war violence and abuse, Ishmael took drugs that gave him a large abundance of energy and deprived him of his feelings, which allowed Ishmael to kill enemies more easily. Ishmael also adapted to the killings of the rebels by imagining each rebel as the killer of his family. During the war, Ishmael visualize each rebels as “simply another rebel who was responsible for the death of my family, as I had come to truly believe” (Beah 125). Ishmael adapts to times of violence by imagining each of the rebels as a person who was responsible for his family’s death. Ishmael survived in the army mainly because he had adapted to the usage of guns for his own protection. The corporal had told Ishmael that “this gun is your source of power in these times. It will protect you all you need, if you know how to use it well” (Beah 124). Ishmael used guns to kill the RUF rebels, which allowed him to adapt to the war violence and survive against many enemies. Ultimately, the theme of learning to adapt is necessary for survival in times of violence is true for Ishmael because he adapted to drug usage and unemotional method of killings.
Sold and A Long Way Gone both articulate the theme that in order to survive, adaptation is required during times of violence and abuse. Lakshmi was sold into prostitution and she had to create methods to cope with her depression and emptiness so she could survive in the harsh adultery business. After many months at the brothel, Lakshmi’s body had already adapted to the smell of men and the brothel, along with Mumtaz’s cruel punishments. Ishmael adapted to violence and abuse by joining the Sierra Leone Armed Forces Army to fight against the RUF rebels, who were the main cause of his family’s death. Drugs were used to aid Ishmael to kill rebels more easily because it gave him a large abundance of energy as well as deprivation of emotions. Ishmael also practiced using guns and visualizing the rebels as people who were responsible for his family’s death in order to ensure his own survival and make killing rebels more impactful upon himself. Adaptation plays an important role to ensure the survival of a person during times of violence and abuse. People who do not adapt during times of violence and abuse will usually find themselves dead or nearly dead.
Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone. New York: Sarah Crichton Books, 2007. 1-229. Print.McCormick, Patricia. Sold. New York: Hyperion Books, 2006. 1-263. Print.
The Inhumanity of War and the Loss of Innocence in ‘A Long Way Gone’
David Hackworth once said “[w]ar is the ultimate reality-based horror story.” David introduces the idea that war has a constant theme of horror. Many of the events that take place in Ishmael Beah’s narrative “A Long Way Gone” support Hackworth’s opinion. Ishmael describes several events that take place on his journey to find his family; many of which turn into a horrific encounter that sometimes involves death. The tactics portrayed in war leads to a great loss and a change in point of view as portrayed in A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah.
Due to the condition of Ishmael’s home, he and his friends are given an ultimatum: either they leave the village and die or they stay and suffer through the horrific war tactics, which leads to the loss of innocence in Ishmael and his friends. The soon to be soldiers had just started to feel safe in Yele after wandering for days trying to survive and grieving the loss of their friend, they were not going to give up safety just to avoid killing rebels. After choosing to fight, Ishmael and his friends witness prisoners being lined up and killed from being shot in the head. This action is justified by the lieutenant exclaiming “[t]hat is why we need strong men and boys to help us fight these guys, so that we can keep this village safe.” (Beah 12). While at first Ishmael and a few others were disgusted by this action, they soon took part in deciding whether or not someone got to live or die. The lieutenant used this quote as propaganda to get young boys to join the fight against rebels. Not long after the encounter with death upon prisoners Ishmael and his war buddies are transformed into soldiers who can eat anything edible in one minute flat. Ishmael proclaimed that “[…] killing had become as easy as drinking water.” (Beah 12). The once innocent children are now lost brainwashed soldiers trained to kill; no one can get in their way. Violence was not the only tactic that began the process of loss for these child soldiers; drug addiction soon stripped them from all innocence as well. Ishmael shared how he “[…] had become addicted to them.”(Beah 12). Marijuana, brown brown, and white capsules fueled his addiction day after day, soon leading him to a slow recovery from withdrawal. The actions Ishmael and his companions took part in lead them to the loss of their childhood.
In response to the crumbling world around them, Ishmael and his friends would constantly try to make the best of things in order to keep the bit of childhood innocence that remained. After joining the fight against the rebels their point of view on the world was changed permanently. No longer did the child aged soldiers think there was still hope in the world; Ishmael confirmed that they were “[…] dangerous, and brainwashed to kill.” (Beah 15). They did not think twice about whether someone lived or died at this point, they just killed them. No one, in their eyes, could be trusted anymore. The boys tried so hard to steer away from violence on their lengthy journey to find their family, but now they “[…] needed the violence.” (Beah 12). This quote not only shows how their point of view shifted from finding their family to killing everyone in sight, but it also shows the effect war has had on them. No longer are they trying to flee from violence. Only after they entered the Benin Home and went through hours of people trying to rip them from the corruption of war did they realize how shifted their point of view was. As they entered the second month of living in Benin Home, Ishmael explained how they were “[…] still traumatized, and now that we had time to think, the fastened mantle of our war memories slowly began to open.” (Beah 19). The boys have now had time to relive the moments they began to regret from war. Their outlook on certain things have changed, and now not only are they traumatized from fighting but also from reliving their childhood war. The point of view from Ishmael and his friends have suffered due to participating in the Sierra Leone war.
Ishmael and his friends experiences in war showed a loss of innocence and a change in point of view. The tactics portrayed in the conflict between the Rebels and Sierra Leonean childhood soldiers shaped them into almost new people. These boys had to make hard choices during the attack from the Rebels that they grew to regret; not only that, but they failed to keep their child mind frame throughout the war. War is unnecessary and leads to a bad effect on the minds of citizens everywhere.