Study Guide

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier Dreams

By Ishmael Beah

Dreams

We usually think of dreams as sweet and lovely things as we drift off to sleep. Like the times we dream about getting invited to Taylor Swift's house for dinner. Or hearing our dog speaking Italian. Or winning the Olympic Minecraft marathon. Dreams can be wacky. But for Ishmael Beah, dreams can turn to nightmares very quickly.

Right after he witnesses the first acts of violence against his home village, Ishmael starts to have terrifying dreams. He sees visions of people being killed. Of himself being killed. He's constantly dreaming about the dangerous situation he's in. Eventually, he tells us that he's "afraid to sleep for fear that [his] suppressed thoughts would appear in [his] dreams." (8.10) Sleep hasn't been this scary since A Nightmare on Elm Street.

After Ishmael leaves the army and goes into the rehabilitation center, his terrifying dreams return. This time, he doesn't worry about being the victim of violence. He dreams about the terrible things he's done to others:

I stayed awake all night, anxiously waiting for daylight, so that I could fully return to my new life, to rediscover the happiness I had known as a child, the joy that had stayed alive inside me even through times when being alive itself became a burden. These days I live in three worlds: my dreams, and the experiences of my new life, which trigger memories from the past. (2.4)

For Ishmael, his dreams reveal his inner state. This is what he's really thinking. As he's wandering through Sierra Leone fearing for his life, Ishmael has to push all his terrified thoughts aside in order to survive. But he can't push them away forever. His mind has to let them out in dreams. And once he leaves the army and begins to live with the guilt of what he's done, his dreams continues to torment him. He's not in danger, he is the danger.

In the end, you may be able to hide the truth from yourself and others, but you can't lie to the Sandman. In this story, dreams tell all.

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