Study Guide

Ishmael's Family in A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

By Ishmael Beah

Ishmael's Family

Ishmael never sees his family again after he and his brother lose each other in the chaos of the war, but he does come very close:

"Your parents and brothers will be happy to see you. They have been talking about you every day and praying for your safety. Your mother cries every day, begging the gods and ancestors to return you to her. Your older brother left to look for you, but he returned about a week ago. His face was sad when he returned. I think he blames himself for losing you." I dropped the hand as [Gasemu] started giving me this news. (11.21)

This is a big moment for Ishmael. He knows his family is alive. They're only just a short walk from where he's standing. He's going to be reunited with them soon. Of course, all that joy is snatched away from him when rebels attack that village moments before Ishmael can set foot in it. Ishmael knows his family was there, but doesn't even get to see them. He doesn't even know for sure if they're dead or alive, though we're left to believe that they must have all been killed in the fighting.

Family Is Forever

Throughout the story, Ishmael's memories of his family bring him strength. He thinks about them a lot as he's wandering around trying to survive on his own. Being reunited with them is his big hope. Once that's taken away, it's tough for Ishmael to start hoping about anything else again. The army also uses Ishmael's love for his family and his anger over their deaths as a motivation to get him to kill mercilessly. It works, even though it's a really awful thing to do.

During his time with the army, Ishmael rarely thinks about his family except in the context of avenging them. But once he enters the rehabilitation center, he's surprised that he dreams about his entire family being together again:

I went outside with the blood all over me and saw my mother, father, older and younger brother. They were all smiling as if nothing had happened, as if we had been together all this time.

"Sit down, Mr. Troublesome," my father said.

"Don't mind him," my mother chuckled.

I sat down facing my father, but couldn't eat with them. My body had gotten numb, and my family didn't seem to notice that I was covered with blood. It began to rain and my family ran into the house, leaving me outside. I sat in the rain for a while, letting it clean the blood off me. I got up to go into the house, but it wasn't there. It had disappeared. I was looking around confused when I woke up from the dream. (17.57-60)

Here, Ishmael sees the people he loves… and they don't seem to notice that he's covered in blood from fighting. They treat him just as they always did and they love him unconditionally. They understand him and they don't judge him. And that's what families are supposed to do.

It's only when Ishmael starts to find new family—either blood relatives or adopted family—that he can move on from the past. Ishmael needs those family bonds in order to feel loved and secure again. It's what he needs to heal from the hurts of the war.

Ishmael's Father

Ishmael's father probably works in the diamond mines of Sierra Leone. He's also not married to their mother, which is kind of a bummer for Ishmael (and ensures that Ishmael gets teased by other kids at school). Ishmael's father is kind of a mixed bag. He clearly tries hard to love his children, but he doesn't have the best taste in wives:

Just three days earlier, I had seen my father walking slowly from work. His hard hat was under his arm and his long face was sweating from the hot afternoon sun. I was sitting on the verandah. I had not seen him for a while, as another stepmother had destroyed our relationship again. But that morning my father smiled at me as he came up the steps. He examined my face, and his lips were about to utter something, when my stepmother came out. He looked away, then at my stepmother, who pretended not to see me. (1.19)

Ishmael's Mother

For her part, Ishmael's mom can see that her ex-husband is trying to help the kids. She doesn't bad mouth him to the boys. She also does her best to care for them. She single-handedly raises Ishmael's little brother, Ibrahim, and cooks and cares for her older sons, too. She's a first-class lady.

Grandmother

Ishmael's grandmother, who he calls Mamie Kpana, is the family storyteller. Ishmael seems to get his love of stories from her and he often remembers the things she used to tell him as a child. It's always a comfort to him to think about her because it brings him back memories of happy days before the war broke out. Even a bad day before the war broke out was still pretty great in comparison.

Junior

Junior, Ishmael's older brother, sets out with him to Mattru Jong, which is why both boys are spared during the attack on Mogbwemo. The two brothers look out for each other. But in the end, they're separated when rebels raid the village they're staying in.