In "A Wall of Fire Rising" by Edwidge Danticat, what do you think the hot-air balloon symbolizes to Assad, its owner? To Guy? To the implied author? The title of the story alludes to a speech that Litle Guy must memorize for a school play about Haiti's history. The lines of the speech are rich in figurative language, including metaphors: "A wall of fire is raising and in the ashes, I see the bones of my people." How do the title's allusion and other aspects of the story confirm that the speech's image of "a wall of fire" is symbolic?  What do you think happens at the end of "A Wall of Fire Rising"? Is Guy's plunge to the earth a deliberate suicide or an accident? What are some symbolic interpretations of both possibilities?

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What does the hot air balloon symbolize?

To the Assad son who buys the hot air balloon, it symbolizes a kind of whimsy that he can afford. Because the Assads are “eccentric Arabs” who also own the mill that provides desirable employment for men in the town, they are outsiders...

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What does the hot air balloon symbolize?

To the Assad son who buys the hot air balloon, it symbolizes a kind of whimsy that he can afford. Because the Assads are “eccentric Arabs” who also own the mill that provides desirable employment for men in the town, they are outsiders not only by ethnicity but also by class. The hot air balloon symbolizes this otherness.

To Guy, the hot air balloon symbolizes an ethereal hope. Guy shows his wife how the hot air balloon works by burning a piece of paper and watching the charred flakes float down to earth. The balloon symbolizes the “miracle” that he can escape from his life and find somewhere “with a nice plot of land where I could be something new.” It is telling that when Guy mentions his plans to his wife, he does not include her or their son.

To the narrator, the hot air balloon symbolizes danger, loneliness, and infidelity. We can see this in the way that Lili talks about her dislike of it: she is worried that Guy will hurt himself, and it is contrary to God’s intentions for humans. She is also concerned that it shows that Guy will leave her and her son alone. We can also see it in the first description the narrator gives of how the balloon looks: like a spaceship. We can see its representation of infidelity in that Guy “let go of the hands of both his wife and the little boy” and stares at it “with the same kind of longing most men display when they admire very pretty girls.”

Symbolic interpretations of Guy’s plunge to earth

If Guy’s plunge is considered a suicide, we can see it from two perspectives. Perhaps he felt fear at the unknown of his new life, at the height of the balloon, at how fast it was moving away from what he knew. His plunge was less of a pre-meditated and intentional suicide and more a panicked response to his fear. He climbed out of the basket to escape from his own escape.

If we consider Guy’s fall to be an accident, we can see the death as a cautionary tale about getting in over your head and about going against tradition and nature. Lili tells Guy that “If God wanted people to fly, he would have given us wings on our backs.” Guy tries to escape from his responsibilities in the balloon; his feeling of oppression because of these responsibilities can be seen when he “wanted to sit under a tree and have a leisurely smoke” after a hard day of work but did not want to “set a bad example for his son by indulging”. So Guy’s attempts to escape and him setting a bad example for his son by running away are punished when he falls to his death. When Lili tells Guy that “a man is judged by his deeds,” it foreshadows that Guy will be judged harshly after his death. If Guy’s death is an accident there are also parallels to the Greek myth about Icarus dying because he flew too close to the sun: Guy acts rashly and lustfully by stealing the hot air balloon. His intelligence in being able to work the balloon is undercut by his death as a result of his hubris.

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"Wall of Fire Rising" is a story about a family relationship that is strained by poverty.

1. The hot-air balloon is symbolic of wealth and position to Assad. It is an object for pleasure, symbolic of the power of money and social position as he has men who assist in the flight of this balloon that elevates him above the earth, not unlike a god. For Guy, the hot air balloon is symbolic of freedom and escape from his life of poverty because it lifts him from servitude and insignificance. For the "implied author," or the narrator, the balloon also seems to represent escape. 

2. The wall of fire is symbolic of man's desire to be free and to have some significance to his life. The fire of the speech arises out of the bones of those who have been enslaved. Further, these lines of the Haitian leader that Little Guy recites for his school play invoke the spirit of the revolution against European rule:

"I call on our young. I call on our old. I call on our mighty and the weak. I call on everyone and anyone so that we shall all let out one piercing cry that we may either live freely or we should die."

Guy feels himself little better than a slave as he cannot rise above the poverty in which he is trapped. He remembers his father as a man he would not desire to be. Since he does not want his son to have the same memory, Guy manages to ignite the balloon on his own and navigate it so his son will be proud of him.

The "wall of fire" represents all the rising emotions and desires that burn inside the hearts of the repressed Haitians. When Little Guy recites the lines after his father falls from the balloon, they are a tribute to his dear father who dared to fly and escape his dismal fate by riding on this "wall of fire" in order to reach new heights. 

3. Guy's plunge seems intentional. His degrading experience of cleaning latrines causes him to despair of rising from his poverty. So, because he wants his son to remember him as having risen to some height and achieved something to be proud of, Guy ignites the hot air balloon and navigates it. But since he does not want to be convicted of theft, he jumps from the balloon, killing himself and leaving his son a positive memory of a daring man.

The balloon kept floating free, drifting on its way to brighter shores.

Another interpretation can be that Guy does commit suicide because he feels defeated after having registered for years for a job at the plant, and the best that he can get is a day of cleaning latrines. He fulfills his dream of flying the balloon, but after this exhilarating experience, he may feel that he cannot return to his life of desperation, so he dives from the balloon in order to leave his son a glorious memory.  

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