Moon, Stars, Sky
The moon, stars and sky are part of a complex of images that Beah uses to show how the cosmos interacts with human life and feeling. Through these images Beah comes close to using the “pathetic fallacy,” a literary device common in poetry in which human emotions or feelings are attributed to inanimate things. For example, in the following passage, the sky and moon are upset at what they see going on in the human world below: “Some nights the sky wept stars that quickly floated and disappeared into the darkness. . . [I]t seemed as if . . . the sky was telling us a story as its stars fell, violently colliding with each other. The moon hid behind clouds to avoid seeing what was happening” (p. 80). Elsewhere, other aspects of nature react in a human-like way to the tragic events: “The branches of the trees looked as if they were holding hands and bowing their heads in prayer” (p. 119) after a massacre. The heavenly bodies participate in the human drama, and Beah invokes this way of seeing things after the death of Gasemu when he writes, “The sun was getting ready to leave the sky. It had come out to take Gasemu with it” (p. 99).
What this suggests is a view of the cosmos as an integral whole in which what happens in one part affects every other part. Apparently inanimate things can convey truths to humans, if the people know how to receive them. In the stories he tells of his early childhood, Beah reveals that he was indeed raised with such beliefs. His grandmother had told him that “the sky speaks to those who look and listen to it” (p. 166).
Dreams and Nightmares
Dreams form an important part of Ishmael’s narrative. They consist mostly of nightmares in which he relives his experiences in the war. Near the beginning of the book, he comments, “These days I live in three worlds: my dreams and the experiences of my new life, which trigger memories from the past” (p. 20). Some of the dreams have a bizarre, surreal quality to them. In one, he is taking a corpse to a cemetery. He unwraps the body from the bedsheets that hold it, and sees the face—it is his known. The dream of course suggests that something about Ishmael died too when he got caught up in all the violence and committed violence himself.
He dreams a lot when he is being rehabilitated at Benin Home. In one dream a “faceless gunman” (p. 149) ties him up and slits his throat. In another dream, people are being slaughtered all around, but then Ishmael’s parents and brothers appear, unhurt and acting as if nothing has happened. This is the first time Ishmael has dreamt of his family, and the images are healing ones. This dream occurs while he is at the Benin home; it is prophetic in the sense that it anticipates Ishmael’s rediscovery of a sense of community and even a new family.
Blood is a constantly recurring image in the book. It first occurs on the very first page, in the title of the movie, Rambo: First Blood, that Ishmael saw before he was even ten years old. But soon the references to blood become literal, not fictional. Spilled blood is everywhere, as Ishmael describes the scenes he witnesses, and the wounds of the victims. Some of the images are vivid. In one, “The eyes of the nearly dead are redder than the blood that comes out of them” (p. 18). Later, the rivers “are filled with so much blood that the water had ceased flowing” (p. 49). Blood stains the trunks of trees and cannot be washed off. Even the rainy season does not remove the stains. The fronds of a palm tree drip blood. On one occasion, at the Benin Home, Ishmael turns on the faucet but what he sees coming out is not water but blood. He writes, “I would stare at it until it looked like water before drinking or taking a shower” (p. 145). The recurring image of blood runs like a leitmotif through the book, conveying in one image the suffering and pain endured by all the people who have been affected by this brutal civil war.