A Wall of Fire Rising by Edwidge Danticat: Summary, Symbolism & Analysis

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  • 0:04 Summary of A Wall of…
  • 0:54 Symbolism
  • 3:57 Themes
  • 4:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Celeste Bright

Celeste has taught college English for four years and holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature.

This lesson will discuss A Wall of Fire Rising, a short story in Edwidge Danticat's collection titled Krik? Krak! First, we will summarize the plot, then analyze its symbolism and themes.

Summary of A Wall of Fire Rising

In 1995, Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat published a collection of short stories called Krik? Krak! about the familial and cultural experiences of Haitians. 'A Wall of Fire Rising' centers on the three-person family of Lili, her husband Guy, and their seven-year-old son Little Guy, who live in a small one-room structure in a Haitian shantytown. Guy is fascinated by a hot air balloon belonging to the family who owns the local sugar mill, and dreams of one day flying it himself. Little Guy is given the starring role in a school play, the role of historical Haitian revolutionary Dutty Boukman. One day, Guy steals the hot air balloon and flies it over the town before leaping to his death. When he sees his father's body, Little Guy recites his lines from the play.


The Hot Air Balloon and the Moon

The hot air balloon and the moon are important symbols in the short story and represent Guy's dreams of a better life. He enjoys saying that the moon is 'on its way to brighter shores.' Similarly, he tells Lili that he'd like to use the balloon to fly away and find a place to start over. But since he doesn't own the balloon, neither it nor its promise of escape can ever be his. After his death, the balloon is symbolically linked with the moon when it 'float(s) free, drifting on its way to brighter shores.' Although it now represents a dream that Guy will never achieve, the balloon also reminds Lili that her husband 'like(d) to look at the sky.'

The Role of Dutty Boukman

Dutty Boukman was a Haitian slave and religious leader in Saint-Domingue, a French colony on the island of Hispaniola that existed from 1697 through the eighteenth century. In 1791, he incited a revolution against the slavery of the natives by the French colonials, which succeeded in 1804, when the colony became the Republic of Haiti. A major figure in Haitian history, he represents the catalyst for the freedom about which Little Guy shouts in reciting his lines.

The role also gives the family hope that Little Guy will have a better future than his father. The boy works tirelessly to learn his lines, and when he practices, Lili and Guy proudly enjoy 'the rare pleasure of hearing the voice of one of the forefathers of Haitian independence in the forced baritone of their only child.' The speeches even bring Guy to the point of tears. However, the role is somewhat ironic: it's written not in Boukman's authentic voice, but in the formal English of a European, and Guy notes that the words destined to remove the yoke of Haitian slavery are 'long and heavy.' The lines Little Guy is given to practice also foreshadow his father's death and his own heavy loss.

Fire Rising

As the story's title suggests, the 'wall of fire rising' is also significant in the narrative. We first encounter this phrase in Boukman's speech. The line itself refers to the event that began the Haitian Revolution: slaves incinerated the sugar plantations on which they were forced to work. In the present, fire is also what allows the hot air balloon to rise into the sky. In both cases, fire can lead to freedom or escape--but it also has the power to destroy.

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