Comparing the themes in A Long Way Gone and Five Chimneys Situations that have happened in your lifetime do not define who you are or what your future is like. It doesn’t matter how challenging the circumstances were for both of them, Ishmael Beah and Olga Lengyel still carried on with both of their lives. These two stories deal with being put in the most unthinkable situations possible and still being able to find the strength to push forward. In Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone he learns that in order to survive, he must overthrow his feelings and literally fight with everything has has. In a same way, in Olga Lengyel’s Five Chimneys, she takes it very slow and one day at a time living in the most harsh and terrible living conditions at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Throughout A Long Way Gone and Five Chimneys “fear can be all-consuming,” “never lose hope,” and “accepting your past despite what has happened” are themes depicted in each of the books.
The theme “fear can be all consuming” is illustrated in both memoirs. In A Long Way Gone and Five Chimneys, Beah and Lengyel are in situations where they let the fear of them dying take fulldrive of their actions, but eventually find the strength to stay driven. In A Long Way Gone Beah is living with the interminable fear of dying for the sole reason that his life is constantly in danger. “Our innocence had been replaced by fear, and we had become monsters” (Beah 55). Beah tries to characterize through this quote that he and the boys became so afraid that they were all with fear and would do whatever it took to survive. In the same way that Beah let fear control his actions, Lengyel also struggled to not let that same fear affect her actions. In Five Chimneys all of the prisoners in the camp were put in a line to have their hair shaved off right after they arrived. The guards decided to pull Lengyel out of the line. “I was fearful. Why should I have been the only one whose hair was not cut? So I disregarded the order and got back in line” (Lengyel 28,29). Lengyel let the fear of not knowing why she was the only one taken out of line control her actions to the point where she forced herself to get back into the line. Under these circumstances, Beah and Lengyel chose to let the trepidation of the situations af,.klfect their actions, and even through all of their hardships, they found the strength to keep going.
The theme “not losing hope” corresponds with both these books because a person needs to have so much optimism to survive what Beah and Lengyel experienced. Beah found the memories of his father comforting during his ordeal. Some of the things his father said to him stuck with him his whole life. Those words motivated and inspired him to fight his hardest and have belligerence at the time that it was most needed. “When I was very little my father used to say, ‘If you are alive there is hope for a better day and something good to happen. If there is nothing good left in the destiny of a person, he or she will die.’ Those words became the vehicle that drove my spirit forward and made it stay alive” (Beah 54). Without that advice from his father, Beah may never have found the will to keep fighting and continue to have hope that he was still alive for a reason. Not only did Beah have to hold onto the little bit of hope he had left, but Lengyel also had to find optimism and resilience in every situation she was put in. “I have not entirely lost my faith in mankind. Even if in the jungle of Birkenau, all were not necessarily inhuman to their fellow men, then there is hope indeed. It is hope that keeps me alive” (Lengyel 229). If Lengyel did not hold onto hope, she may never have survived. For this reason, the little bit of hope she had left, invigorated her to use whatever strength she had to fight for her life. In the hope that they would both live, Beah and Lengyel had continued to persevere even in their weakest moments.
Another theme present in these books is “accepting your past despite what has happened.” Beah and Lengyel, struggling to survive their journeys, find the courage to move on from everything that they endured. In A Long Way Gone, Beah begins to tell people that Muhamed, his best friend before the war, is his brother because he does not want to keep explaining everything he went through. He wanted to move on from the things that happened and start over. “I knew I could never forget my past, but I wanted to stop talking about it so I would be fully present in my new life” (Beah 202). Beah had such a long journey, filled with so much peril and anguish, that it was hard to accept it and move forward. Not only did Beah go through a lot, Lengyel had to live through the death of her parents, children, and husband. She had to live without any of her loved ones and had to survive the hardships of living in a concentration camp. “The world understands that I could not have known, but in my heart a terrible feeling persists that I could have, might have been able to save them” (Lengyel 11). By the end of her memoir, Lengyel not only feels responsible for numerous deaths throughout the book, but she also struggles to accept those deaths and move on. With everything that has happened, Beah at this point in his journey just wants to move on and have a fresh start and Lengyel feels as if she is responsible and that she could have done something more to change what happened; But the reality of it is that there was not anything more she could have done.
These three themes were prominent throughout these books in so many ways. Ishmael Beah and Olga Lengyel were put in unthinkable situations, but somewhere in the darkness of those circumstances found courage and strength to guide them into the light. Do not let your past define your future.