Overcoming Loneliness in “A Long Way Gone”

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F. Scott Fitzgerald, famous American fiction writer, once said, “There’s a loneliness that only exists in one’s mind. The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” Loneliness is defined as the absence of connection and not always the prince of people. CBS news wrote about a survey of two thousand Americans and seventy-two percent have experienced loneliness. Dr Jennifer Caudle, assistant professor of family medicine, states in the same CBS article, “I was actually surprised that so many people felt they were alone. I thought it would be high, but not this high” (CBS 1). Throughout human time, people can agree loneliness is a result of life transitions. Examples of life transitions that result in loneliness is losing a spouse, leaving for college, or working in a new job. In the memoir, “A Long Way Gone” Ishmael Beah’s life changes drastically when the civil war hits his village. Ishmael is faced with migrating to village to village escaping the rebels´raids, loss of family and friends, and spending time in the forest on his own. The memoir, “A Long Way Gone”, demonstrates the importance of overcoming different forms of loneliness or isolationism in order to continue to pursue happiness.

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Ishmael Beah experiences different forms of isolationism. The type of isolationism he faces most of the time is new-situation loneliness. New-situation loneliness can be described as moving to a new city, school, or job where the people of the new transitional place are unknown. Ishmael is forced to move from village to village to escape the rebels´ raids. In the first raid he experienced, Ishmael, his brother Junior, and friend Tattoo whom eventually separate from each other, ran from the town of Mattru Jong. Ishmael and his friends kept running until they lost the rebels, who eventually, an hour later, returned back to Mattru Jong. The group of boys ended up in an village that they don’t recognize. Ishmael said in his memoir, “I do not know the name of the village that we were in and didn’t bother to ask, since I was busy trying to survive the everyday obstacles” (Beah 86). At the time, Ishmael had a problem of finding food to survive hunger. Ishmael didn’t bother asking people of the village for guidance on his search for food because he knew no one from the village. If Ishmael asked people of the village, he could have acquired food quicklier, saving his own time, and energy. People like Ishmael are afraid they will be rejected especially by strangers. Hearing a “no” is not necessarily a bad thing to hear. Laurie Leinwand, psychotherapist and counselor, says in her own article about the hardship people face of asking for assistance, “We do not have to weave a story and personalize the rejection. It may be that the person we chose to ask didn’t have the appropriate resources to help us at that time. It’s best to accept the “no” as the answer to our request, not a negation of ourselves” (Leinwand 1). Ishmael had a chance to gain the opportunity of collaboration with others if he had asked the villagers for guidance. Seeking guidance and advice gives opportunity for someone to share with you. Even if the answer is useful, people seeking help appreciate the effort and their time to give an honest answer.

Another form of isolationism is emotional loneliness. Emotional loneliness can be described as the loss of an emotional connection with a person. An example of emotional loneliness is friendships and relationships that have drifted away. One day, Ishmael is chosen by UNICEF as a child representative about the hardships in West Africa. At the conference in New York City, Ishmael meets a storyteller named Laura. Laura would tell stories that Ishmael and the other fifty two kids would know. Ishmael was attached to Laura by her extraordinary personality she showed especially becoming Ishmael’s first friend in the United States. Once Ishaml returned back to West Africa, he started to go to school again. Days later, Ishmael is awaken by gunshots and the start of the second civil war. Ishmael heard AK-47’s, G3’s, RPGs, and machine guns. Ishmael did not want to visualize running from to village to village and joining army. Ishmael says in his memoir, “I had lost contact with Laura in New York for more than five months. Her letters came from all over the world, where she has storytelling projects.

Recently I had tried calling her collect everyday, but was unsuccessful” (Beah 521). Ishmael recalls and misses his connection with Laura and was hoping to reach out to her to seek help out of the second civil war. Eventually, Laura answers and agrees to Ishmael’s request of staying with her in New York City. Most connections with others are broken due to separation like Ishmael and Laura. Darrah Brustein, active writer for Forbes, says in an article about asking a favor from an old friend, “At most people’s core, they want to help. Make it easy by being direct, clear, and that the ask is commensurate with the quality of the relationship” (Brustein 1). Ishmael wanted to live with Laura because as a way of escaping the second civil war and to reconnect with his old friend. Ishmael had asked Laura twice to clarify if she actually wanted Ishmael to stay with her in New York City and said yes twice. Ishmael and Laura´s connection when they first met made an impact in Ishmael’s life and once he returned to his home at West Africa, he reminisced her and the stories she told. Catching up with old friends can likely improve mental health especially for Ishmael who now suffers from PTSD.

A common form of loneliness is solitude. Solitude can be described as the state of physically being alone. Ishmael is faced with solitude when walks many miles and finds himself in the middle of a thick forest. Days passed and Ishmael continued to hate being in the woods by himself. Ishmael says in his memoir, “The most difficult part of being in the forest was the loneliness. It became unbearable each day. One thing about being lonesome is that you think too much, especially when they’re is´nt much lose you can do. I didn’t like this and i tried to stop myself from thinking, but nothing seemed to work” (Beah 159). An effect of solution is self-reflection. People like Ishmael who faced solitude have the exercise and willingness to think about purpose and essence. Self-reflection could be viewed as a good experience but Ishmael, he found it as a bad experience. Ishmael had horrifying nights in the forest where he was feared that his thoughts would appear in his dreams. Ishmael wanted to leave the forest as soon as possible to avoid self-reflection. Shoba Sreenivasan, earned Phd in Psychology from UCLA, says in her article of why people need each other, “Humans, because of necessity, evolved into social beings. Dependence on and corporation with each other enhanced our ability to survive under harsh environmental circumstances. Indeed, the lack of such connections can lead to many problems, including loneliness” (Screenivasan 1). Screenivasan describes the importance of connections with other people to overcome and avoid loneliness. One day, Ishmael sees six boys walking in the forest and opens up to them. Ishmael recognize three boys who attended Centennial Secondary School with him in Mattru Jong. Finally, Ishmael overcomes being alone and leaves the forest gladly with his new group.

Another example of loneliness is the lack of parent support. Orphans in an orphanage suffer the most from the lack of parent support. Ishmael never got to see his parents after the civil war started in Mattru Jong. During the civil war, there was not a time where Ishmael was reminiscing about his parents. Ishmael said in his memoir, “I was losing everyone, my family, my friends. I remembered when my family moved to Mogbwemo. My father held a ceremony to bless our new home. He invited our new neighbors. He looked at us, my mother held my little brother, and Junior and I stood next to each other with toffee in our mouths ” (Beah 177). The civil war was taking away the people that Ishmael deeply loved. Throughout the memoir, Ishmael mentions memories about him and his family. David Sack, a psychiatry specialist, says in his article about the loss of parents hurts the individual’s mental health, “The healing process also involves finding it possible, in time, to enjoy other relationships” (Sack 1). Sack explains how connection with others can help with grief and mourning. Basically, practical support can help a person experiencing grief. Ishmael finds Laura as a person who can really connect to. Eventually, their connection leads to Laura adopting the ex child soldier, Ishmael Beah.

Throughout human experience, people can describe loneliness as an unpleasant emotion that affects the physical and mental health of any individual. One can argue that today’s society has grown into individualism. The “American Dream” is a clear understanding on immigrants strive for a better life and living than their parents’. Jie Zong, writer for the migration policy institute website, says in her article of statistics of immigrants coming to the United States, “The United States has been the top destination for international migrants since at least 1960, with one-fifth of the world’s migrants living there as of 2017” (Zong 1). Immigrants come to the United States at a young age and not knowing anyone. The growth of individualism like the “American Dream” is the result of individuals into becoming isolated and the experience of loneliness. In the memoir, “A Long Way Gone”, Ishmael Beah experiences loneliness due to life transition from a regular boy to a boy thriving to survive a civil war. Ishmael overcomes loneliness mostly by finding connections with others people especially through the hard times of the civil war. Ishmael found happiness by having connections with group of boys he finds when he was solitated in the forest and his new mother, Laura. Ishmael did have trouble overcoming new-situation loneliness because he was scared of denial for help especially to people he never seen before. The memoir, “A Long Way Gone”, proves the importance of overcoming loneliness to pursue happiness.

Work Cited

  1. Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs Of A Boy Soldier. Sarah Crichton Books/ Farrar, Stratus and Giroux, 2007.
  2. Brustein, Darrah. “How To Ask For A Favor From An Old Friend (Without Sounding Insincere).” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 6 July 2017,www.forbes.com/sites/darrahbrustei/2017/07/05/how-to-warm-up-a-relationship-when-you-need-something/#765ae53068e0.
  3. Leinwand, Laurie. “Why Is It So Hard to Ask for Help?” GoodTherapy.org – Find the Right Therapist, GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog, 15 June 2016, www.goodtherapy.org/blog/why-is-it-so-hard-to-ask-for-help-0616164.
  4. Marcus, Mary Brophy. “Feeling Lonely? So Are a Lot of Other People, Survey Finds.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 13 Oct. 2016, www.cbsnews.com/news/many-americans-are-lonely-survey-finds/.
  5. Sack, David. “Why Losing a Parent Hurts So Much, No Matter Your Age.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 27 Sept. 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/where-science-meets-the-steps/201709/why-losing-parent-hurts-so-much-no-matter-your-age.
  6. Screenivasan, Shoba. “Why We Need Each Other.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 14 Dec. 2014, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/emotional-nourishment/201612/why-we-need-each-other.
  7. Zong, Jie. “Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States.” Migrationpolicy.org, 27 Feb. 2018, www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states.
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Overcoming Loneliness in "A Long Way Gone". (2021, Mar 17). Retrieved December 1, 2022 , from
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