Claim: In A Long Way Gone, Beah’s cultural surroundings continuously mold his moral traits by providing him with different concepts of what is right or wrong, and they contribute the theme of lost innocence to the memoir as a whole.
Evidence #1: Before Beah participates in the war, “We went to the river for a swim, and there we played hide-and-seek swimming games, running along the river’s edge screaming ‘Cocoo’ to commence the game. Everyone was smiling” (Beah 84).
Analysis: Before becoming a child soldier, Beah is a part of the Mende tribe. He is surrounded by his peaceful community, that passes its beliefs through the form of story-telling. The elders in Beah’s community teach him to practice good morals, such as being kind to others and being innocent. The expect children to be well behaved and not act violently. In his community, Beah does not see violent acts or pain. He is a pure boy who enjoys doing activities with his friends and only worries about issues like his divorced parents. When he lives in his community, he plays with his friends and starts discovering who he is by learning rap. He adopts the attitudes and morals that he is expected to show by his community. However, his innocence and friendliness are lost when he has new cultural surroundings.
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 is among a war culture. He regularly sees guns, violence, and death, which he eventually accepts as his new life and culture. Being in this environment and participating in the violence causes Beah to develop an acceptance for violence and feels it is right to kill. When Beah mentions that killing was just another regular activity, it shows that he does not see other human life with great value. The war changes Beah’s view on death by instilling the notion that the people Beah is killing are just objects of his revenge. The feelings of sympathy and pain that Beah feels before he became a child soldier are gone and instead, they are replaced with anger and feelings of revenge. To Beah’s native culture, the decisions he makes during war would be considered immoral; However, the war culture accepts and encourages his decisions. The theme of lost innocence is supported because Beah grows from a child into an adult, after he begins fighting in the war. When Beah is escaping the rebels with his friends, he still has his innocence. He consistently recalls the memories of his culture and family, and he follows the morals he was taught in his community. His hope that he once had turns into acceptance of the horrific situations of his life. Since Beah is forced to face and respond to adult situations before he is ready, his childhood is robbed from him.