Claim: In A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah’s cultural surroundings shape his moral traits, which change throughout the memoir by implying different beliefs and versions of what is right or wrong, and contribute to the theme of the loss of humanity throughout the memoir.
Evidence #1: When Beah and his friends are hiding from the rebels in Kabati, he sees “In the back of the van were three more dead bodies, two girls and a boy, and their blood was all over the seats and the ceiling of the van… My feet went numb and my entire body froze” (Beah 12-13).
Analysis: Beah reacts with fear and experiences many emotions when he perceives what the rebels have done. The rebels have recently made an appearance in Kabati, which is his grandmother’s town. Beah lives in a normally peaceful town, and in a community that believes in good behavior, innocence, and peace. They do not accept naughtiness of violence, especially artifacts like guns. His culture passes wisdom to the younger generations and demands that they help others, and that they never intentionally hurt someone. They teach children that it is immoral to act violent and cause death, and that it is right to have feelings towards others. Being raised in this friendly community that believes in kindness and empathy, Beah learns to develop those traits as well. Since Beah is not accustomed to seeing death and pain caused by violence in his culture, he reacts with fear and sympathy.
Evidence #2: Beah says, “We had been fighting for over two years, and killing had become a daily activity. I felt no pity for anyone. My childhood had gone by without my knowing, and it seemed as if my heart had frozen. (Beah 126)
Analysis: After becoming a child soldier, Beah belongs to a war culture. He regularly sees guns, violence, and death, which he eventually accepts as a part of his new life and culture. Being in this environment and participating in the violence causes Beah to develop and acceptance for violence and feels that it is appropriate to kill. Witnessing people who are suffering and death does not disturb him like it once did. The kindness and pity that are a part of Beah’s morals disappear at this time because of the new influences of his war culture. The value of human life becomes minor to him, and he sees the people that he is killing as objects of his revenge. Beah’s transformation in attitude and morals as his surroundings change, play a significance to the memoir by showing the theme of loss of humanity. Beah goes from being a boy who has sympathy and feelings such as trust, to a boy who is cold. Being humane includes expressing emotions and behaving in a civilized manner. Since Beah loses these moral traits essential to making him humane, he becomes a monstrous being during war.