A Wall of Fire Rising Characters
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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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...

(The entire section is 903 words.)