A Wall of Fire Rising Questions and Answers
by Edwidge Danticat

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What does the image of the balloon symbolize in the essay "A Wall of Fire"? How is Danticat using the image to convey her point, plot, characterization, and so on?

The image of the balloon in "A Wall of Fire" symbolizes different things to different people. Two primary meanings are freedom and privilege. Danticat uses this image to convey her central point, the importance of dreams and freedom, and in the characterization of Guy and Lili.

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A Wall of Fire Rising” centers on a hot-air balloon that becomes the object of Guy’s obsession. The balloon, which is kept locked up in a field, haunts him day and night. The balloon symbolizes Guy’s dreams of limitless achievements and of freedom from the poverty and drudgery of his daily life. To Lili, Guy’s wife, the balloon stands for everything that is beyond their reach. For Assad, the wealthy man who purchased it, it symbolizes his privileged status, as he considers it just another plaything to which his riches entitle him. Edwige Dandicat expands on these multiple meanings to explore the central theme of aspiring to greater things, and the dream of freedom that sustains hope.

Guy is a poor but hard-working man who struggles to provide for his family. He achieves modest success in getting hired as a cleaner at the local factory—a poorly paid, low-status position that has taken him years to gain. Both Guy and Lili are dreamers in different ways. One part of Guy wants his son to accept the limitations that they face. On the one hand, he suggests to Lili that they enroll the young boy on the waiting list for factory jobs. On the other hand, he cannot forget about the possibility of the balloon soaring to great heights, wondering what it would be like to fly away.

Lili rejects the idea of limiting the child’s vision of the future by placing him on the list. Instead, she encourages him to succeed in school, in this case through delivering a monologue about national freedom. For Lili, the balloon is a distraction that is taking Guy’s attention away from making realistic plans for the boy’s future. When it takes her husband’s life, it becomes the symbol of the futility of trying to escape.

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