Fire in the Ashes: Successes and Failures

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Jonathan Kozol's "Fire in the Ashes"

Jonathan Kozol, the author of "Fire in the Ashes," sheds light on some social problems and how they affect children's lives. The book also covers the importance of social institutions including families, schools, religious institutions, and prisons in fostering the development of young people in society. The author examines the impact of poverty and difficulties brought on by race in each of the book's chapters. Success stories exist of people who overcame difficulties and situations to overcome them. However, not all could survive the turmoil. Each of the settings upon which the stories in the book are built portrays situations of extreme poverty, suffering and unimaginable losses which took characters with a high drive and resilience to get out.


The story of Erick and his sister in chapter two explores the support of religious institutions. Erick and Lisette are lucky enough to find a home in Montana which was rented by both the local church and community members. Religious organizations exist to provide help to those who need it and give spiritual and moral guidance to the community. In this case, Erick and his sister found solace in the church; however, this was not enough to keep Erick from taking the criminal path. He suffered from depression which eventually led to his death. The social institutions in this setting played their role, but a child committed suicide regardless of the support available. This gets one think of the need for a collaborative effort to protect children from physical and emotional harm.

In chapter three, titled 'Pietro and his children,' the author explores the character of Christopher. This chapter explores how the family unit can make or destroy children. Misfortune leads Pietro and his family to the Martinique hotel which becomes their home. His parent's irresponsible behavior leaves Christopher as the sole provider for the family at an early age of 10. This affects him to the extent that he is unable he keep in touch with his family. The general societal perception of the family unit is that parents are responsible for their children. There are however cases such as that of Pietro in which children are left to bear the burden of fending for the family. This is an enormous responsibility which has adverse effects as seen in this chapter where Christopher is convicted and later commits suicide.

The fourth chapter brings out the impact of external social influences from peers on the character of children as they grow up. This chapter explores the character of Armando, the surviving son of Ariella. After the death of his elder brother, Armando starts dealing drugs this eventually gets him imprisoned. The issue of drugs has been a big challenge for a long time; this leaves the question of whose responsibility it is to address this problem. Armando is one of the characters who managed to rise above their past; he found a reason to keep him striving to become better, 'his wife and kids' (p.102). He got a second chance at life and decided to make good use of it.

The author describes Alice Worthington in chapter five as one with a powerful sense of humor. The author met Alice in the Bronx. The city had made plans for some people to be relocated and Alice was among those who were to transfer to one of the poorest neighborhoods. Alice develops HIV and is a victim of an abusive marriage, however, according to Kozol, 'she rejected victimhood' (p.139). Being homeless, her attitude and approach to life made her handle the bitter experiences gracefully. She eventually gave into drugs. The author discusses the story of Alice in part one of his book which talks about those who succumbed to their situations. However, her fall came as a result of circumstances beyond her control; otherwise, she would have been a survivor.


The second part of the book which sheds more light on 'survivors,' individuals who use their experiences and knowledge to get themselves out of poverty Lisette, Erick's sister discussed in chapter two is one of the survivors. Lisette was left alone, and despite the unfortunate events in her life, she managed to survive. She went to school, got a good job and eventually got married; she refused to let what happened to her limit her potential. Chapter eight of the book introduces the character of Pineapple. Learning and religious institutions play a significant part in influencing the lives of these characters. The author describes pineapple a person who was not afraid to voice her opinion. Despite the challenges she had encountered during her education, she was driven by the support from her family and her desire to learn. Pineapple had a better chance at life compared to other characters like Christopher, this story emphasizes on the significance of education, and most importantly the role that the family plays in shaping the future of their children.

In chapter ten, the author speaks of Jeremy, who despite being a bookworm was still behind in his studies. He struggled through his challenges and managed to advance to college where he became friends with a poet from Puerto and got involved in religious activities through his job at a church in Mott. Religion has a positive impact to those who are willing to seek guidance and grow in faith. The story of Benjamin in chapter thirteen tells of a young individual who is inspired by education and religion to get away from the grasp of misfortune. Benjamin is one of the success stories who refused to be defined by their situations. One of his brothers raped him, and his siblings died as a result of dealing drugs. After losing part of his family at the age of 12, Benjamin decides to live a busy life to avoid the temptation of getting caught up in the wrong social behavior. College kept him occupied while his religious faith gave him solace and direction in life. Benjamin goes on to become a drug counselor to help the young people in the neighborhood that he grew up.

The author Jonathan Kozol has spent a good part of his career life advocating for improved education. The book 'Fire in the Ashes' is a clear manifestation of his compelling passion for helping others especially children who have been marginalized by race, poverty and social inequalities. A very crucial element that comes up in the book is how social factors can impact the lives of young people. It is important to note that not all the circumstances each of the mentioned characters faced were controllable, and in some cases, individual decisions were the reasons behind the failures discussed.

Worked Cited

Kozol, Jonathan. Fire in the ashes: Twenty-five years among the poorest children in America. Crown, 2012.

March 15, 2023

Literature Family Life



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Book Review Children Success

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