A Wall of Fire Growing by Edwidge Danticat is set during the time when Haiti was struggling for independence from France. Despite the fact that Haiti was under colonial control at the time, poverty was a big concern. As a result, as a result of colonialism’s greed, Haitians remained stuck in the severe poverty that suffocated the nation. Guy, an African Haitian man, Lili, his wife, and their son Little Guy are central to the plot. Guy aspired to better his family and raise them out of poverty (Lark-Catalpa-Roayl8). In comparison, his son was trying intensely to understand the lines of a poem with words of liberation that he could not fully comprehend. Throughout the story, poverty provides the primary reason why many people lack freedom in their lives. Even after being freed, slaves remain confined in life as they spend the entire day looking for money to acquire food and shelter.
While at home, Little Guy does not realize the power of poverty and her mother’s desire to live happily. At the same time, he does not understand his father’s dream to improve the condition of the family. As he learns about Dutty Boukman, Haitian slave and a church leader from Saint-Domingue, Little Guy begins to understand more about freedom and how the African people used to suffer (Naimou 173). The lines aim at instilling hope for liberation to the Haiti slaves by promising them a better future. Little Guy also assumes the role of Dutty Boukman in the play where he recites his lines. “I am Boukman” (Danticat 148). Later in the story, Guy is drawn by the desire to improve the condition of his family after observing the hot air balloon (Lark-Catalpa-Roayl8). Eventually, his wishes to fly in the hot air balloon lead him to steal it and flying with it for a short distance. As a result, the balloon takes him into an accident which later causes his death. Upon seeing his father’s body, Little Guy is now able to understand the lines of the play well, and he can recite them better than he used to do before.
The Use of Imagery in the Story
Throughout the story, Danticat uses symbolism in various ways to enhance different meanings and ideas. The entire story revolves around the Haitian settings with a background of freedom and poverty which are in the Haitian people’s hearts (Lark-Catalpa-Roayl8). Also, the story goes deeper into the family of Guy to underline a specific example of what the Haitian people were going through at the moment. Therefore, through a couple of symbols, Danticat can link ideas and different meanings in his story.
Firstly, the hot air balloon and the moon depict significant ideas in the story. Throughout his life, Guy admires the hot balloon, and he wishes if he can fly with it. At times, Guy saw the hot air balloon as a mean which he can use to move from Haiti to another place where he can settle afresh with his family (Danticat 156). The moonlight symbolizes the hope that Guy had for a better life in future. Therefore, Guy sees the moon move from the darkness heading “its way to brighter shores” (Danticat 155). This shows how Guy desires to move from the hardships that he and his family face into a new place where there will be no suffering. The presence of the moon and hot air balloon acts as a source of hope to escape from the poverty that confined him and his family. However, the two symbols also prove to be destructive in various ways despite providing a glitter for hope to Guy. Later, Guy gets carried away by the thoughts of the moon and the hot air balloon. After stealing the hot air balloon, he ends up losing his life.
Secondly, the symbol of Dutty Boukman is used severally in the story. Boukman essentially depicts the revolutionary period in which the Haitians acquired freedom from French. Since the 17th century, Haiti was still under the French rule as a colony. However, this ended in the late 18th century when the country acquired its freedom (Naimou 176). According to the story, Boukman incited the people from Haiti to fight for their freedom from the French rule. Therefore, the slaves joined their efforts to fight for what later came to become the Republic of Haiti. In the story, Boukman represents a symbol of freedom. The people of Haiti viewed him with respect as he was the main reason why they became a sovereign country. Through learning about Boukman, Little Guy can understand the meaning of “political independence” and also “freedom”. Little Guy assumes the role of Boukman in the play (Danticat 148). Thus, he tirelessly recites the lines with the words of Boukman to memorize them before the performance of the play. When Little Guy recites the words of Boukman, he reminds Guy and Lili about the Haitian heroes who fought for the independence of the country. “As their applause thundered in the small space of their shack that night, they felt as though for a moment they had been given the rare pleasure of hearing the voices of one of the forefathers of Haitian independence in the force baritone of their only child” (Danticat 149). Boukman’s words, which were “long and heavy”, showed the fight for independence as well as the endurance in slavery among the Haitians.
Thirdly, fire is used to represent trap and destruction and also hope for freedom. The “wall of fire rising” shows how the Haitians move from colonialism to freedom but still get entrapped into poverty. Instead of going from hardships into better lives, the people live in poverty which renders them working all the time to get food and shelter. On the other hand, fire in the hot air balloon represents a sign of hope for freedom from poverty. As Guy watches the fire burning to enhance the movement of the balloon, he sees it as a mean through which one can transform the life by moving from one place to the other. Fire represents a way through which one can be free from poverty. Guy dreams of how he can use the hot air balloon, which uses fire to heat air, to move with his family from Haiti to another place free from poverty.
Lastly, the lines in the play also have various meanings in the story. Through reciting the play lines, Little Guy brings to remembrance the thoughts about the Haitian independence. The lines also make Little Guy see himself as an important and a heroic person as Dutty Boukman. This instills hope in his parents as they see a more critical future in him and in their family too. “Remember what you are…a great rebel leader. Remember, it is the revolution” (Danticat 149). Little Guy receives the encouragement from his parents with a lot of positivity which makes him remain ready for the challenge of ensuring freedom. “Freedom is on my mind!…” This shows the potential in the young Little Guy to change the condition of poverty in his family. Furthermore, the play lines go more in-depth into analyzing the current status of Haiti. Even though the country was free from the French rule, it was still stalled by poverty. People spend their entire time looking for money to buy food and shelter. Therefore, the lines show that the country is yet to claim full independence for its citizens.
The story, A Wall of Fire Rising by Edwidge Danticat, revolves around two significant fronts. These include Guy’s family and the country of Haiti. Through the use of imagery, Danticat outlines various ideas in the story easily, for example, poverty and independence. At the same time, she effectively links different ideas which seem to interconnect within the entire story, for example, poverty in the society and Guy’s family.
Danticat, E. (2004). Krik? Krak!. Soho Press.
Danticat, Edwidge. “A Wall of Fire Rising.”.” Krik? Krak (2009): 51-80.
Lark-Catalpa-Roayl8. The Symbolism behind A Wall of Fire Rising. Personal Journal, Jul, 2017, https://lark-catalpa-royal8.deviantart.com/journal/The-Symbolism-behind-A-Wall-of-Fire-Rising-694415529. Accessed 15 Oct. 2017.
Naimou, A. (2012). ” I Need Many Repetitions”: Rehearsing the Haitian Revolution in the Shadows of the Sugar Mill. Callaloo, 35(1), 173-192.