Analyze the theme of "A Wall of Fire Rising" by Edwidge Danticat.

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One theme you might consider in "A Wall of Fire Rising" is the devastating effect of poverty. To analyze the way this theme is developed, you could examine the author's use of tone, characterization, and conflicting imagery.

Danticat employs a somber tone to describe Guy's existence....

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One theme you might consider in "A Wall of Fire Rising" is the devastating effect of poverty. To analyze the way this theme is developed, you could examine the author's use of tone, characterization, and conflicting imagery.

Danticat employs a somber tone to describe Guy's existence. When he excitedly barges through the door as the story opens, his wife doesn't have time for his news. Later as he and Lili get into bed, it is "easier for him to imagine their son's lips" on his wife's breasts than to consider his wife's body as an object of sexual desire. He thus "turn[s] his face away" from her body as she prepares for bed. When he finally conveys his good news to Lili—that he has been given a bit of work at the sugar mill—he is dejected that he is still number seventy-eight in line to be regularly employed there. When Guy shares his dreams of flying, Lili scoffs at his ideas, asserting that "if God wanted people to fly, he would have given us wings." Guy's setting provides almost no hope that his situation will ever change, and his small victories seem insignificant in the face of crushing poverty. As the conflict progresses, Guy becomes increasingly weary of his life, which creates a somber tone.

It is also important to consider the way Guy's characterization contributes to the theme of poverty. He is a hard worker and is dedicated to his family. Guy insists that he "can do other things" besides work at the sugar mill, but there is no other work to be found. Even jobs at the sugar mill are so scarce and provide so little income that his wife is forced to spend most of her day "scrap[ing] together that night's meal." Guy imagines escaping the crushing poverty which entraps him, but he can find no practical means of doing so. He thus turns to his dreams, which are both impractical and fantastical, as a means of alleviating the constant ache of poverty.

Conflicting imagery is also used to illuminate the difference between hope and despair. Guy's son sits to study "on an old plastic bucket turned upside down, straining his eyes to find the words on the page." As a token of affection, Guy plucks a mushroom and tucks it behind his wife's ear, which looks "like a dried insect" and is a bleak reminder of the beauty which their lives lack. When Guy stops to gaze upon the hot air balloon, he must press his hand through "barbed wire," which is a sharp and painful barrier between him and his dreams. In contrast, the balloon itself is a "smooth rainbow" which "floats." Guy dreams that it can carry him to a place where he can "be something new." He also believes that God gave people reasons to want to dream and "fly," such as "the air, the birds, [their] son." The dreary imagery depicting Guy's poverty is therefore contrasted by the bright and hopeful imagery of his dreams.

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