War Is Hell Perhaps the first and most important theme in a long Way Gone is War is Hell. Although this is an overworked phrase (cliché)



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Possible Theme Topics for A Long Way Gone

War Is Hell

Perhaps the first and most important theme in A Long Way Gone is War is Hell. Although this is an overworked phrase (cliché), it fits this narrative perfectly. The horrors and tragedy that Ishmael relates to the reader are almost unbelievable. The atrocities committed against innocent civilians give new meaning to the idea of war as well.



There is always Hope

There is always Hope. In spite of all the terrible events in Ishmael’s life, he finds a way to overcome everything and find love again and meaning to his existence again. Also, with the work he begins at the UN, we can hope that other children will not be subjected in the future to the tragedy he had to endure.



When Everything Else is Gone, There is Always Love

Another important theme tells us when everything else disappears, there is always love. Ishmael learns this the hard way. He has a kind of family unit with the soldiers that actually carries over into the love and friendship between him and Alhaji. Then, there is the love of Uncle Tommy and his family and their willingness to make Ishmael a son and a brother. Finally, there is the love of people like Esther and Laura who accept him unconditionally and welcome him into their homes when he most needed help and love.



Other important themes you may want to consider writing about:

  1. Family, Community- The importance of both to the well-being of human beings. Also, the high cost to humans when they lose these things.

  2. Loss, Suffering- There’s a lot of examples from the book that show the effects of loss/suffering.

  3. Redemption- As low and terrible as humans are capable of becoming, they are also just as capable of redeeming themselves: overcoming hardships to become a complete and whole person. In short, we are capable of going from an awful person to a good person.

  4. On the flip side of redemption is deterioration; the awful things humans can become when they lack kindness, compassion, and above all, love. A lot of sad examples of this in the book as well.

  5. Friendship- Ishmael does not survive to become a good person without friendship (this theme could be tied to the idea of redemption as well).

  6. Hatred, Enmity, Revenge- What role does hatred, enmity, and revenge play in Ishmael’s story? In Sierra Leone’s story? In the story of child soldiers?

  7. Forgiveness, Compassion- What role does forgiveness and compassion play in Ishmael’s story? In Sierra Leone’s story? In the story of child soldiers?




  1. Survival- The incredibly strong will to survive could be an interesting theme to explore. A lot of examples from the book as well as the articles we’ve read about child soldiers.

  2. Growth, Growing up

  3. Governments, Politics

  4. Cultural Awareness, Boundaries, Permeability

  5. Leaders, Followers, Leading, Following

  6. Remembrance, Memory, Memories

  7. The Present, the Past, the Future

  8. Nature, the Natural World, Mother Nature- Nature is a constant in Ishmael Beah’s memoir, A Long Way Gone – a constant reminder of the good that is left in the world. Nature is there to comfort him and to give him a sense of peace and connection to the world around him. The elements of nature provide him with warnings, provide him with comforting memories of his childhood, and instill within him lessons to carry on.

*If none of these themes really work for you, and you have a different idea for what you want to write about, that’s fine. Just let me know what you have on your mind and you can run with it.


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