Analysis of “A Wall of Fire Rising” by Edwidge Danticat

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A Wall of Fire Rising

"A Wall of Fire Rising" by Edwidge Danticat is one of the most epic short stories that delve into the nagging issue of survival of most families around the world. In this story, the readers encounter the dark tale of a Haitian family in its struggle to make ends meet. The central center of the narrative is on the three-member family of Lili, her husband Guy, and their seven-year-old son Little Guy. They reside in a small single room structure in one of the old Haitian towns. Guy has a fascination with an aircraft owned by the family that owns the local sugar mill. He dreams of flying it one day. On the other hand, Little Guy gets the role of historical Haitian revolutionary Dutty Boukman, to star in a school play. The sadness looming in the story culminates when one day Guy steals the balloon which he flies over the city. Unfortunately for him, Guy leaps from the aircraft to his death. With his role in the play, Little Guy recites the play's lines when he sees his father's dead body. Thus, this story adapts different literary devices to showcase the plight and life of this small Haitian family.


Danticat adopts the use of symbolism in her bid to explore the concept of people dealing with life’s challenges. There are those who are strong enough and can handle a lot of problems while there are people who cannot bear problems. Both types of humanity feature in this story. Symbolism only serves to strengthen this thematic point. First, the hot air balloon and moon represent a better future for people like Guy. He likes saying that the moon is on its way to brighter shores (Danticat 74). Additionally, he confides in Lili that he would want to fly the balloon to somewhere he could start afresh. To him, there is hope in flying the balloon. Arguably, it is so because he would be in a position to move away from his poor lifestyle in the slums. Unfortunately for him, he cannot fly the balloon as it does not belong to him and therefore, his dreams and thoughts remain unachievable. There is further symbolism in the fascination with both the balloon and moon. When Guy passes on, Danticat symbolically links the two saying, it ‘float(s) free, drifting on its way to brighter shores.' Furthermore, despite the balloon reminding Lili of dreams never achieved, it is also a somber reminder of Guy's fondness for the skies.

From the role of Boukman, there is a symbolic innuendo.

Haitian Revolution Symbolism

To begin with, the iconic religious leader and former slave represented the fight and clamor for freedom. Therefore, Little Guy in taking the role echoes on the need for emancipation from poverty and oppression people living in poverty endure. The young boy's constant reciting of the icon's words in the play showcases the vigor with which to demand change. Similarly, the role is an ember of hope for the small family. They see it as an indicator of Little Guy having a better and brighter future than his father's. The boy is tireless in his bid to learn the lines of the play and does his parents proud. They find happiness in 'the rare pleasure of hearing the voice of one of the forefathers of Haitian independence in the forced baritone of their only child.' (Danticat 57).

Symbolic Speeches

The speeches from the recital bring Guy to tears. "There is so much sadness in the faces of my people… so that we shall all let out one piercing cry that we may either live free or we should die."(Danticat 71). However, the role is also ironic in the sense that Boukman's words are in modern-day English and not his authentic voice. The lines also foreshadow Guy's death and the little boy's grave loss.

Guy's Desperation and Lili's Strength

Guy undergoes distress, first from his inability as a man to provide for his family, and second as a Haitian humbled by life. He pities himself so much that he thinks that his life does not matter anymore. Thus, he wants to quit his boring lifestyle and admires excitement and magnificent things in his life. Thus, Guy wants freedom from the clog of responsibilities as the head of his family. Similarly, he sees his wife, Lili as a woman, Little Guy's mother and nothing more. "It was now easier for him to imagine their son's lips around those breasts than to imagine his anywhere near them." (Danticat 65). Accordingly, there is little holding him in his ordinary life. In a split second, he could leave and never turn back again. Little Guy's recital of the lines from the play only ignite his desires to pursue his dream of flying the balloon. Evidently, it was his feeling of emptiness and uselessness that drove him into stealing the balloon. Tragically, his theatrics would not end at merely taking the plane. He would commit suicide by jumping out of the balloon. By dying, he gained freedom from the troubles of living in poverty.

Guy's actions sharply contrast with his wife Lili, and even their son. Instead of losing hope and the following suit through committal of suicide, they choose to soldier on. Little Guy was angry in his recital of the play's lines when he saw his father's body. He could not understand what made him decide to murder himself. Guy was a man whose solution to his problems is running away and leaving people in the same swamp. However, Lili stood strong and helped their son through the awkward phase of losing Guy and the uncertain life in the shanties. Additionally, she understood her husband's situation and subsequent decision. Lili did not blame him for his actions. She strived hard to make ends meet for her family, supported Little Guy both at home and school. Little Guy, on the other hand, took things positively. Despite the tough life, he was grateful he had his parents and the school. The young man is stronger than his father in handling problem (Chen 40).

Running Away and Confronting Problems

There are people whose solution to problems is running away instead of confronting them head-on. Guy, in his current life, pictures the life his father before him lived, one of abject poverty. That is a life he does not wish on anyone, let alone his dear family. However, his reaction to the problem at hand is inadequate. He succumbs to wild dreams and fantasies instead of doing something tangible. Otherwise, he could have considered coping with life. His actions became problematic for his family. Unmanly of him, he became emotional and angry at himself. Apparently, there are better solutions to problems rather than running away. Also, issues cease. A moment's challenge cannot justify suicide or even be stealing, as Guy decided. On the positive side, his death freed Lili from having to worry about him.

The Hopelessness of Guy and the Strength of Others

In its entirety, the story is hopeless, something that is attributable to Guy. The man is so helpless and desperate in his life that the mood of the story depends on him. His spirit lifts when young Guy recites his lines for the play, only to become somber when he reverts to reality. The son is the only thing that warms Guy's heart, giving him hope for a better future. At the peak of his happiness, while flying the balloon, he decides to end his life, in the full glare of the entire village. He cannot go back to his sad poverty-ridden life (Naimou 185).


In summary, it is apparent that the story's main point is in how people embrace challenges in life. To showcase this thought, Danticat uses symbols of the balloon, moon, and Boukman. While the former two are a sign of hope for Guy, the latter reminds him of his inefficiencies as a man. Similarly, Little Guy is a sign of future concern for his family. However, when things get thick for Guy, he chooses the easy way out, suicide. Lili instead remains firm and supportive of their son through the unfairness of their lifestyles.

Works Cited

Chen, Wilson C. "Figures of Flight and Entrapment in Edwidge Danticat's "Krik? Krak!"."Rocky Mountain Review. 65(1), 2011: 36-55. Print

Danticat, Edwidge. A Wall Of Fire. New York: Soho Press, 1995. Print

Naimou, Angela. "I Need Many Repetitions"Rehearsing the Haitian Revolution in the Shadows of the Sugar Mill."Callaloo. 35(1), 2012: 173-192. Print

November 24, 2023



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