A Wall of Fire Rising

by Edwidge Danticat

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A Wall of Fire Rising Characters

The main characters in “A Wall of Fire Rising” are Guy, Lili, and Little Guy.

  • Guy is a husband and father who dreams of escaping his life of poverty and achieving more than his job cleaning latrines at the sugar mill. He becomes fixated on the idea of launching a hot-air balloon, from which he ultimately jumps to his death.
  • Lili is Guy’s wife and Little Guy’s mother. While she loves Guy, she doesn’t fully understand his dreams of escape.
  • Little Guy is Guy and Lili’s young son, who has been cast as Haitian revolutionary Dutty Boukman in his school play.


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Last Updated on September 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 904


Guy is a faithful father and husband who is tasked with the seemingly impossible: providing for his family in the midst of extreme poverty. He is nurturing toward his son and encourages Little Guy’s efforts to succeed in school, helping him memorize the lines which he is so focused on. Yet Guy also wants to be practical, and he believes that putting his young son’s name on the list to work at the local sugar mill is the best opportunity he can realistically give him. He is disappointed in his abilities to provide financial stability for his family, and the implications of his wife’s assertions that she does not want her son to clean latrines at the mill are not lost on him. His dreams of financial freedom, and the freedom to live a different life in a different place, seem futile.

Guy becomes increasingly focused on the magical idea of flying away from the world he knows and into a world of endless possibilities. The balloon becomes a symbol of this freedom to him, yet even it is locked away behind barbed wire and deemed off-limits to him. Guy tries to find contentment in natural beauty, appreciating the sight of his wife’s body, the flight of a bird in the sky, and the corkscrew curls on his son’s head. Yet his soul longs for possibilities beyond his reach, and even the temporary flight of a burning scrap of paper stirs deep and powerful longings. The piece of paper he sets ablaze foreshadows Guy’s own ending, as he achieves one brief moment of glory before he is metaphorically reduced to ash. Guy manages to escape the predictable life of suffering that he worried his son would remember him for, but in doing so, he surrenders his life for a taste of freedom and greatness.


Guy’s wife, Lili, adores her husband. She works with him to stretch their meager income as far as it will go, even inventing “special sweet water tea” to stave off hunger and purchasing spices on credit so that she can resell them for a profit at the market. She enjoys a physically intimate relationship with Guy, allowing him to lay his head on her bare chest at night, and she enjoys his playful teasing, such as the evening when he tucks  mushrooms into the strands of her hair. Yet Lili is also constantly pulled away from this relationship by another important role: being Little Guy’s mother. As Little Guy’s primary caretaker, she encourages his efforts in school and celebrates his successes—even, perhaps, at the expense of her husband’s needs. When faced with where to concentrate her attention, Lili gravitates toward her role as mother first and her role as wife second.

While Guy tells Lili that she is a good mother because she sees the best in their son, she doesn’t understand her husband’s dreams and is content to live their lives together in economic hardship. She encourages Guy to feel pride in obtaining the “honest work”of  cleaning the latrines at the sugar mill, but she is resolute that she doesn’t want her son to settle for such employment. While she tries to help Guy feel a sense of masculine pride, noting that he is always there to protect her, she also undermines this by indirectly conveying that she wants her own son to be a more accomplished man than his father. At the end of the story, Lili’s tender observations as she asks to see her husband’s face one final time provide a powerful image of her adoration of her husband. She longs...

(This entire section contains 904 words.)

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to once again feel his nose rub hers, to see the curl of his lips as he teases her. In her final gesture to honor her husband’s memory, Lili asks that his eyes be left open as he lies on his back, because Guy has always enjoyed looking at the sky—and thus she honors his dreams of freedom and escape.

Little Guy

Little Guy is the only child of his parents and his father’s namesake. He has a big personality, fit for the stage, and is adored by both his parents. Little Guy seems to have a sixth sense about his parents’ intimacy, as when they begin to share a tender moment, he has a way of making himself known. He surely feels the weight of his parents’ dreams for him, and when he is cast as the lead in the school play, he tackles the memorization of his lines with fervor. He seems to understand the importance of success in this task, and he awakens in the night in terror because he has forgotten his lines. His father has great dreams for him, yet he also longs for Little Guy to remember him as a man of value and worth. It is Little Guy who first spots his father in the hot-air balloon, and when he rushes to tell his mother, he is so shocked that he cannot find words to convey the horrific truth. When he stands over his father’s body, however, Little Guy feels compelled to recite the words of the historic revolutionary Dutty Boukman, recognizing the heroic efforts inherent in his father’s death. The words become a eulogy for Guy, recognizing his determination to “live freely or die.”