The armed conflicts of the world can affect a child’s life by causing a loss of innocence within the child. A Long Way Gone tells us the story of a child solider residing in Sierra Leone, who loses his innocence due to the civil war in Sierra Leone. Ishmael Beah shares how the wrongdoings of the world can affect a child’s life traumatically, and Beah does this through his use of symbolism and imagery. A prominent theme in A long Way Gone is the loss of innocence from the involvement in the war.
An example of symbolism displayed in the story is the cassettes he carries around with him throughout his journey. The cassettes portray freedom, safety and the loss of innocence. Ishmael first experiences the war when the rebels attack his hometown village of Mattru Jong. Ishmael, being only 12-years-old at the time, finds it difficult to fully understand the situation he’s in as he is only a child. On one occasion safety and freedom are shown when the rap cassettes save Ishmael and the boys when they had been captured and mistaken for rebels. As they are being searched by the villagers, they find the cassettes and some man recognizes their rap performance. The chief realizes that they are only children and lets them leave the village in peace. “The chief explained to everyone that there had been a misunderstanding and that we were only children looking for safety.” (Beah 68) The loss of innocence is shown when Ishmael loses the cassettes due to his pants being burned in the fire. After walking for days, the boys are captured by a group of soldiers and are taken to Yele, a village occupied by the military. They are told that they must either join them or leave the village. The boys know leaving the village means death at the hands of the rebels, so they have no choice but to agree to stay. They are given new clothes and their old clothes are burned. “I ran towards the fire, but the cassettes already started to melt. Tears formed in my eyes, and my lips shook.” (Beah, 110) Losing the tapes signifies his transition to becoming a child soldier. Rap music had become a constant companion in Ishmael’s life that the destruction of his rap music shattered a part of his past that meant a lot to him. Regardless of the war, Ishmael is still a child who has been forced to grow up.
An example of imagery displayed in the book is of war and family. Ishmael uses imagery to describe the horrors of the war of the war because he surrounded by it. He wants the audience to be on a more personal level and see what it was like to be a child soldier. “The last casualty that we saw that evening was a woman who carried her baby on her back. Blood running down her dress and dripping behind her, making a trail. Her child was shot dead as she ran for her life.” (Beah 13) This is a significant quote about imagery of war because it explains Ishmael first encounter with war and the vivid image, he depicts which shows the importance aspect of war. This is the moment he begins to really recognize the violence and death the war is causing. This a start to the end of his innocence he recognizes that it is serious and it’s time to find a way to survive. At the beginning of the book Ishmael explains to us the many good memories/experiences with his family. He mentions going to dance competitions with his brother and friends. As the story progresses the memories that once brought him so much joy starts to haunt him, so he tries to avoid thinking about his past which shows the loss of innocence. “But that night I had a nightmare that was different… They were all smiling as if nothing had happened, as if we had been together all this time.” (Beah 164) It is obvious that the war changed him and took his life to unexpected places, but his life was constantly touched by his family.