How does Ishmael Beah address the loss of innocence in A Long Way Gone? While Beah’s memoir is written largely in a matter-of-fact tone, he does use several devices to illustrate the theme of loss of innocence: use of flashbacks, symbolism, and nature motifs. Beah states plainly that his induction into the Sierra Leone military at the age of 13 was the end of his childhood. Although the violent pursuit of rebels across Sierra Leone traumatized Beah, it is not until he is turned into a killer that he believes himself to have lost his innocence.
At this point, Beah stops utilizing flashbacks to his childhood, clearly delineating his old “good” life with his new “bad” life. Before this point, his memories were comforting to him during his wandering and, narratively, they served the function of reminding the reader that Beah is still a child caught in an impossible situation. When he is at the Benin Home, he only starts to delve back into childhood memory/flashback when he is able to work through his war experiences.
The phantasmagoric nightmares serve as a barrier to remembrances of his family; only by moving through the war images is he able to call up his childhood memories, and then begin healing. Beah’s rap tapes also symbolize his innocence. His childhood ended without warning, when he and his friends were traveling to practice dance routines. The tapes remain with Beah throughout the months spent avoiding RUF attacks. They save his life – convincing the a chief that he is still a child at heart and not a “devil” – and narratively become a physical representation of his innocence.
The tapes are burned when the army takes his cloths, thus continuing their symbolic importance. Music, a reminder of his old life, becomes a gateway to healing when Esther’s gift of a Walkman helps Beah to open up at Benin Home. Throughout the book, Beah notices and describes the natural world around him in beautiful detail. As the violence increases, the references to nature subside. The scene where Beah and his friends see the ocean for the first time – creating a much-needed respite – stands out as the strongest example. They play together, once more becoming children.