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Narrative Reflection: A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah Essay

Society can be represented by an onion. There are many layers to both. In society, the center is an individual. It then moves on to family, community, nation, and finally, humankind. Each layer cannot exist without the layers underneath it, just like how an onion cannot be an onion without its many supporting layers. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah shows the layers of society through memories. Beah has experienced these layers through war, and explains each one in his memoir. The first, being himself.

When an individual is torn away from his/her parents, moral corruption may be imminent. Once Ishmael and his friends are separated from their families, they are looked down upon by others. They are seen as filthy, useless beings, and that arises many internal conflicts. The separation also leaves a lot of responsibility on the individual. They have to provide for themselves. “Apart from eating and drinking water and once every other day taking a bath, I spent most of my time fighting myself mentally in order to avoid thinking about… where my family and friends were.”(Beah 52). This quote from the memoir shows how he was experiencing self conflict because of the loss of his family. It shows that separation from one’s family impacts his/her life.

Families sacrifice whatever it takes to reunite after being separated. Ishmael traveled across Africa to attempt to reunite with his family. He sacrificed many days and went through a lot of pain to find them. Even his family, while in the village where all the Mattru Jong refugees were staying, kept looking for Ishmael, even if the searches were in vain. “One man was carrying his dead son. … The father was covered with his son’s blood, and as he ran he kept saying, ‘I will get you to the hospital, my boy, and everything will be fine.’ Perhaps it was necessary that he cling to false hopes…” (Beah 13) This quote shows that even though the son is dead, the father does all he can to attempt to keep them together. “I wanted to see my family, even if it meant dying with them” is another example of family sacrifice. Ishmael would rather see his family one last time, and be together one last time, even if it meant that he would give up his life.

A community is many families working together to help each other. “‘In that village there are lots of people from Mattru Jong and the Sierra Rutile mining area. All of you might be able to find your families or news about them’” (Beah 83). When Ishmael Beah and his friends go to a village, the people there help direct them to their families who were staying in the next town over. Communities also help provide food and shelter for their members when it is needed.

Nations are multiple communities joined together to help each other or fight together. “The following morning our nameless host came again with food and a smile on his face that said he was glad that we were doing fine.” (Beah 62) A man from one community helped the boys from a different community. This shows how a nation works. Communities work together to help each other. Even so, not all parts of a nation get along. “One day, as soon as we had left the forested area of a village we had bypassed, a group of huge, muscular men sprang from the bushes onto the path in front of us. Raising their machetes and hunting rifles, they ordered us to stop. The men were the voluntary guards of their village and had been asked by their chief to bring us back.” (Beah 38). The village that sent the guards to capture the boys weren’t being a helpful community to others; however, each nation has different types communities. Some of them willing to help, while others attempt to protect only themselves.

The final layer of society is humankind. It is exactly like the skin of an onion. It ends the layers in a neat finish and protects them. When turmoil occurs in one nation, other nations provide aid. “‘You have been great soldiers and you all know that you are part of this brotherhood. I am very proud to have served my country with you boys. But your work here is done, and I must send you off. These men will put you in school and find you another life.’” (Beah 129). The program the boys are sent to is UNICEF, which was established to help rehabilitate child soldiers and try to bring them back to reality. Later in the memoir, Ishmael is also sent to the United States to represent Sierra Leone. He shared with the rest of the United States the horror going on in Africa. Americans helped Ishmael’s nation when it was in need.

Ishmael uses these layers of society throughout the entire novel. He starts with an individual, the center of an onion, and moves through all the layers, reaching humankind, or the skin of an onion. These layers build his experiences to the maximum level of emotional appeal, and bring many people together to help others like him.

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