Imagery, Personification And Flashbacks In The Book A Long Way Gone

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Table of contents

  1. Imagery
  2. Personnification
  3. Flashbacks

In A Long Way Gone Ishmael Beah gives the readers a different perspective on the experience of child soldiers through imagery, personnification and flashbacks. A Long Way Gone is an autobiography by this author, Ishmael Beah who was he himself, a child soldier. In his book he tells the reader in exact detail the story of his life back in Sierra Leone at the time of the war as a child soldier, the pain and horrific tragedies that he had to endure at a very young age. This story also tells the reader about the connections he made with other people, but that were then broken or taken apart by the war.


By putting the reader in his shoes and describing every scene of his childhood to the reader through extremely strong imagery. Ishmael Beah describes some extremely gruesome scenes to grasps the reader’s attention and make the reader understand the horrific tragedies he had to endure.

He also describes the atmosphere in detail to put the reader in his place and feel his pain. Ismeal does not try to justify his actions and crimes by brushing off the subject, rather he acknowledges it and explains that it was only his defense mechanism to stay alive.

Ishmael Beah uses imagery throughout the book, to keep the image of his life in the reader’s mind. In one of the passages Ishmael is in New York and is dreaming about his past life in Sierra Leone, where he is a soldier and he is pushing a wheelbarrow across a deserted village to bring it to the cemetery and once he gets there he unveils this person under the white sheet and realises that it was him. “I AM PUSHING a rusty wheelbarrow in a town where the air smells of blood and burnt flesh.” this is one of the evidences of imagery that Ishmael Beah has used to bring us to his position and smell what he smells to actually feel and sense. He mainly writes about the smells when he is surrounded by dead bodies because that was what he remembered the clearest because it was the biggest part of his life. There is another quote that shows a slight different imagery technique. In another of Ismael’s passages he is walking with the other boys in a deserted village looking for food, suddenly a crow falls from the sky. The boys are tormented between eating the crow to stay alive or continue searching. At the end some boys decide to eat the crow. One of the boys called Kanei is whistling, once he stops Ishmael describes how it became eerily silent afterwards. “After Kanei stopped humming, the world became eerily silent. The breeze and the clouds had stopped moving, the trees were still, as if they all awaited something unimaginable.”p81

This passage explains how sometimes through his journey he would feel like the world slowed down or even stopped. These feelings happened because the only thing that Ishmael wanted was a way out, a way to start a new life or go back to his old one with his family, friends and his home. The only way for him to get out was through his thoughts. He could also escape through slowing the time down and taking a break from reality, the reality that he was in the middle of a war.


Ishmael Beah uses a lot of personification throughout his story, this factor really brings the book to life. It adds depth to his story and sometimes helps the reader understand his tone better. Most personification in this book is of nature because that is one of the only things he is able to attach himself to, being this you boy alone. The nature in this book also brings back memories from his past like while playing with his friends or sometimes it would bring back stories that his grandmother would tell him when he was younger. Such as when he was running away from Kamator and loses his older brother Junior, he describes wanting to be in his families arms and that night night he finds a place to sleep in a tree “in the arms of those trees, between earth and sky.” He frequently refers to the moon and talks about how it relates to his life, this goes on throughout the novel. For instance early on in the book Ishmael Beah’s keeps hearing the wise man from the village say, 'We must strive to be like the moon.' An old man in Kabati repeated this sentence often to people who walked past his house on their way to the river to fetch water, to hunt, to tap palm wine; and to their farms. I remember asking my grandmother what the old man meant. She explained that the adage served to remind people to always be on their best behavior and to be good to others. She said that people complain when there is too much sun and it gets unbearably hot, and also when it rains too much or when it is cold. But she said, no one grumbles when the moon shines. Everyone becomes happy and appreciates the moon in their own special way. Children watch their shadows and play in its light, people gather at the square to tell stories and dance through the night. A lot of happy things happen when the moon shines. These are some of the reasons why we should want to be like the moon.

The sun is also one big part of nature that Ishmael Beah keeps referring to because it is what slows them done a lot because of the heat, it also is what creates shadows that leads Ismael the character back to some many different scenarios in his past present or even futur. At one point in the book when the boys are being led into battle for the first time Ishmael Beah recalls “the sun’s brightness painted our shadows on the ground”. Ishmael Beah gives us an understanding that the moon followed him through his journey and was always there for him even when other family members were gone. During times when horrible things were happening he would say that “ The moon hid behind clouds to avoid seeing what was happening. The moon disappeared and took the stars with it, making the sky weep”. This is also an evidence of personification, he is implying that he felt as if he was connecting with the moon and the moon was connecting with him, this is why the moon would ‘hide away’ to be able to avoid seeing Ishmael (the character) do these horrid actions.

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This is a very important literary device that Ishmael Beah uses throughout his book because it informs the reader about his life in the past. Most flashbacks occur because Ishmael (the character) sees something that reminds him of his home, for example when he was taken from the army by UNICEF soldiers and taken to the rehabilitation center. There it was very hard for the boys to recover because of all the drugs they had taken and the traumatic events they had endured. One night Ishmael was sitting on the verandah thinking of his life before the war had touched him,”That night, as I sat on the verandah listening to some of the boys discuss the volleyball game I had missed, I tried to think about my childhood days, but it was impossible, as I began getting flashbacks of the first time I slit a man's throat.” p.160

Ishmael Beah tells us about these flashbacks to remind the reader how it is very hard to forget his old life, this affects him mentally and physically. Ishmael starts lashing out because he wants to go back to the frontline with his new ‘family’.

In one passage Ishmael just arrives from a secondary school and sees one of his former friends, Mohammed, sitting on a stoop he then walks over,We sat together on the stoop and briefly talked about our childhood pranks. 'Sometimes I think about those great times we had dancing at talent shows, practicing new dances, playing soccer until we couldn't see the ball… It seems like all those things happened a very long time ago. It is really strange, you know,' he said, looking away for a bit.

'I know, I know…' I said.

'You were a troublesome boy,' he reminded me.

'I know, I know…'p.170

This is another passage in the book where Ishmael is trying to remember the happy moments he had before the war, he now has help remembering since he found his friend, they are able to think about the fun pranks they used to pull. This is also a moment where you realise that Ishmael is really turning back to his innocent self because when he sees his friend they do not start talking about being soldiers but directly remind each other of the happy times they had, this is an evidence that they miss their old life back in Mattru Jong more than their time associated with the war.

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Imagery, Personification And Flashbacks In The Book A Long Way Gone. (2021, September 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 19, 2024, from
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