The Layers of Society: An Onion Analogy in "A Long Way Gone"

Categories: A Long Way Gone

Society, much like an onion, possesses intricate layers, each playing a crucial role in shaping human experiences. Drawing inspiration from Ishmael Beah's memoir, "A Long Way Gone," we explore the layers of society, ranging from the individual to humankind. This essay delves into the interconnectedness of these layers, emphasizing their significance in times of war and the pursuit of reunification.

The Individual: Impact of Separation from Family

At the core of society lies the individual, a focal point akin to the center of an onion.

Beah's memoir vividly illustrates the profound consequences when individuals are torn away from their families, particularly in the context of war. This separation not only subjects them to external judgment, rendering them as "filthy, useless beings," but it also initiates internal conflicts.

The responsibility thrust upon separated individuals becomes immense, as they grapple with providing for themselves amidst the turmoil. Beah's poignant reflection captures this struggle: "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).

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This internal conflict becomes a defining aspect of their lives, showcasing the profound impact of family separation on an individual's psyche.

The Family: Sacrifice and Reunification

Family, as the next layer in our societal onion, stands as a cornerstone for societal structure. The sacrifices made by individuals and families to reunite are a testament to the profound importance of this layer. Beah's personal journey across Africa to find his family exemplifies the lengths one might go through for the sake of reunification.

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The memoir vividly portrays instances of sacrificial actions within families. Even in the face of tragedy, such as the death of a son, a father clings to false hopes, demonstrating an unwavering commitment to keeping the family together: "I wanted to see my family, even if it meant dying with them" (Beah). This poignant example illustrates the profound sacrifices individuals are willing to make to be with their loved ones, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

The Community: Collective Support

Extending beyond the family, communities represent the collective support network within our societal layers. In Beah's narrative, when he and his friends seek refuge in a village, the communal spirit becomes evident: "'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). Here, communities play a pivotal role in providing direction and support to individuals in their quest for reunification.

Communities, as depicted in the memoir, also extend support in the form of basic necessities like food and shelter. This collaborative effort within the community layer becomes essential for individuals navigating the challenges of war and family separation.

The Nation: Unity and Disparity

Nations, amalgamations of multiple communities, represent the next layer in our societal onion. While communities within a nation often collaborate for mutual support, disparities may emerge. Beah's narrative introduces instances of both unity and internal conflict within nations.

An example of positive collaboration emerges when a nameless host from one community comes bearing food and a smile for Beah and his friends: "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). This exemplifies how communities within a nation can work together to provide aid and support during challenging times.

Conversely, the memoir also portrays instances of internal conflict, where a group of men from a village acts as voluntary guards, ordered to bring Beah and his friends back. This discord highlights the varying dynamics within nations, with some communities prioritizing self-preservation over collective support (Beah 38).

Humankind: Global Unity and Aid

Our exploration of societal layers culminates in humankind, analogous to the skin of an onion. In times of turmoil, nations globally come together to provide aid and support. Beah's journey beyond his nation's borders takes him to UNICEF, a program established to rehabilitate child soldiers and reintegrate them into society. This global initiative becomes a beacon of hope for individuals like Beah.

The memoir further extends the narrative to Ishmael's journey to the United States, where he becomes a representative of Sierra Leone. His firsthand account shared with the American audience brings attention to the horrors in Africa. This international collaboration underscores the role of humankind in providing aid and support to nations in need.

Ishmael's Use of Societal Layers: Emotional Appeal and Unity

Ishmael Beah strategically employs the layers of society throughout his memoir to maximize emotional appeal and foster unity. Beginning with the individual, he navigates through each layer, reaching humankind, or the skin of an onion. This deliberate progression builds a nuanced narrative that resonates with readers, bringing individuals together in a collective effort to support those like Ishmael who have experienced the profound impacts of societal upheaval.

Conclusion: The Interconnected Onion Layers of Society

In conclusion, the analogy of an onion aptly represents the intricate layers of society as portrayed in Ishmael Beah's "A Long Way Gone." From the individual to humankind, each layer is interconnected and indispensable. The memoir serves as a powerful testament to the impact of war, family separation, and the collective efforts required to overcome these challenges. By understanding and appreciating these societal layers, we foster a sense of unity that transcends individual experiences and contributes to the collective resilience of humankind.

Updated: Jan 02, 2024
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The Layers of Society: An Onion Analogy in "A Long Way Gone". (2016, Sep 14). Retrieved from

The Layers of Society: An Onion Analogy in "A Long Way Gone" essay
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