The source and nature of one’s identity is a theme of both A long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah and “ Stranger in the Village” by James Baldwin. Conflict can be external or internal creating depth in a character and making a very complex journey. Everyone has an identity made and changed by what they have been through and what they have experienced. Baldwin bravely talks about his journey in the small swiss village in a Europe as villagers are shocked to see him: a black man. They observe him like an animal, however Baldwin does not see them as being unkind, rather they are unaware of black history in America.
He compares how attitudes towards blacks were different in America, and Europe. Baldwin points out that history is trapped in him and he is trapped in history. No matter who he is now he would still be seen as it used to be seen in the past. The Villagers make him feel like a stranger, so different and alone that he finds himself kind of lost. But he is hopeful that his identity is not “fixed” or “stagnant” Given America’s ideals and dreams, it must change for the better, and the “world” will change for the better with it.
Similarly, Ishmael Beah goes through many trials and conflicts that he has to overcome, creating his identity. Beah losses everything that has meaning to him, being made into something he is not. Facing a harsh reality of his own life. Beah did not have a permanent home. He was always traveling and running to get away from the war. He became very strong at a young age. He lived in the wild having to find his own food and shelter, or else he would die. Walking 25 miles to somewhere without telling anyone you’re leaving has a huge impact on your life and how others view you.
After running day and night they had finally been captured by the rebels. Being forced to become something they are not is a horrifying experience. That’s exactly what happened when Beah and his friends were captured. The cassette tape that was in his pocket saved his life many times; Beah escaped luckily but had nowhere to run once again. These life-changing experiences will surely have an effect on his life, and how he faced everything alone. The decision whether to forget and move on or except what he is going to become will determine his identity. The conflict that Beah faces is a war.
In his early age of twelve Beah and his brother Junior with some other friends set off from their village of Mogbwemo on a trip to the town of Mattru Jong to participate in a friend’s rap talent show. And the next day they hear the bad news; rebels attacked their village where he had no idea of what had happened to his family. Beah tries to go back to his town but he witnesses crowds of injured, bloody, horrified, and panicked people running towards where he was coming from. When the boys witnessed a horrific scene of a mother and her dead baby after running away from their home village.
The last casualty we saw that evening was a woman who carried her baby on her back… Her child had been shot dead as she ran for her life… The image of that woman and her baby plagued my mind as we walked back to Mattru Jong… I didn’t want to go back to where that woman was from; it was clear in the eyes of the baby that all had been lost” (Beah, 13-14). It was this overexposure to violence and gore that began his loss of innocence because it was powerful enough to diminish his hopes of returning to his home, forcing him to continue moving without guidance.
Beah didn’t really know what to do after he had saw and this is because he was too young to take any thoughtful action since young children like him lived through guidance of an adult or parent which Beah didn’t had either. “Things changed rapidly in a matter of seconds and no one had any control over anything. We had yet to learn these things and implement survival tactics, which was what it came down to. ” (page 29) Beah understands that rebels violence force himself and other people like him to adopt a “survival tactics”. He goes from one village to village in search of food and his family or anything that would help him feel safe.
He even steals food from a innocent child because of a hunger that makes him weak. Haven’t eating anything in so long you are willing to throw away your guilt. Each new village brings either hopelessness – in the form of desolation and isolation – or hostility on the part of the frightened inhabitants. Beah feels that there is no place for him to call “home” any longer, and fears that such a place may never exist in his future. Like Beah, each time that Baldwin traveled to that small swiss village in Europe villagers saw him as an devil which means bad luck to have in the village.
The reaction of the villagers towards Baldwin was something new which made him think of past and how at a certain point everything was different which also goes back to Beah remembering the welcomed feelings when he visited villages. Baldwins thinking of the past includes the white American creating a terrible history that becomes part or identity of the black man. At first Beah’s only motivator was the hope of his parents being alive, then when he realized that he would never be reunited with them he had lost his hope.
It was only when he remembered what his father had said about a person only lives if they have something to live for which gave him his hope back. “When I was very little, my father used to say, “If you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen. If there is nothing good left in the destiny of a person, he or she will die. ” (page 54) Gaining his hope back again through memories of what he’s father said helps him to keep pushing forward, even though he’s lost in the forest without a purpose in life.
This motivates him fight depression that he has because of a isolation from other human beings before he meets with his other not that close friends. Beah believes that his destiny will have some type of good in it as long as he’s alive . As Beah travels and runs from one place to another he loses his identity. He suffers from physical and mental pain through his journey. Losing his family, friends, and his childhood and to survive through all the obstacles he faces mostly by his own is such a big thing for a child.
One of the unsettling things about my journey, mentally, physically, and emotionally, was that I wasn’t sure when or where it was going to end. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I felt that I was starting over and over again. ” (page 69) He must start “over and over again” with each new day, keep moving so as to avoid both the rebels and their terrified victims. For Beah, as for any other refugee from warfare, there can be no rest. Whatever dreams he had in childhood of his adult life have not only been put on hold, they have been obliterated. His only goal now is to live through each day.