A Wall of Fire Rising Themes
The main themes in “A Wall of Fire Rising” are poverty, parenthood, and the pain of exclusion.
- Poverty: Guy longs for his son to remember him as more than a struggling worker, and his desire to escape the confines of poverty leads to his launch of the hot-air balloon and his death.
Parenthood: Little Guy’s needs take precedence over Guy’s own, and Guy’s attempts to talk with Lili are regularly interrupted by his son.
- The pain of exclusion: Guy’s loneliness stems from his exclusion from permanent employment, from his wife’s full attention, and from his dreams of a better life.
Guy longs for more than his meager opportunities in Haiti. He understands that the only way to earn a decent living is to gain employment at the sugar mill, and this is fairly impossible because competition is fierce. He is thus forced to scrape by, barely making enough here and there to feed his wife and Little Guy, leaving no room to hope for a better life, including material comforts, such as a nice house. Although his wife is content with their life, she longs for more for their son, not wanting him to clean latrines like his father. She thus sends conflicting messages to Guy, who eventually arrives at a point of complete hopelessness that life will ever offer him more than his current position of constant struggle. The hot-air balloon becomes a symbol of freedom, offering Guy an escape from the poverty that plagues him. He wants to be more than his father was and longs to be remembered as more than simply a poor, struggling man. Guy thus finds a way to a greater destiny via the only path available to him: a seemingly suicidal quest to launch a balloon into the sky, freeing himself from the hardships that have always weighed him down. It is significant that not once in the story does Guy mention his skill in landing a balloon; he speaks only of his belief in his ability to get it—and himself—off the ground. He accomplishes this dream, and as he reaches heights that few in Haiti are ever able to fathom, the townspeople cheer for him on the ground below. In that moment, Guy is recognized as a man who has broken open the realms of possibility. Guy, however, sees only one possible ending to this journey; his dream never included a safe landing. Longing to be remembered as a great man, he leaps from the balloon to his death. With no hope of ever improving his station in life, Guy is driven to commit suicide in a dramatic attempt to die as a man unconstrained by poverty and struggle.
From the opening line of the story, Guy is a man who wants to be heard, yet he struggles to maintain his wife’s attention over the boisterous energy of their son. Guy enters his home wanting to share the news of his employment at the sugar mill with his wife, but his desires are pushed aside as Little Guy takes center stage with news of his school accomplishments. Later, outside the mill, Guy and his wife share a tender moment alone, and again he tells Lili that he needs to talk to her. Again, Little Guy interrupts, this time physically inserting himself between the couple. Guy is affectionate with his son and seems to bear no ill will against him for the interruptions; still, there is a sense of defeat in his being constantly forced to step aside, burying his own needs as he provides the nurturing attention that his son craves. It is also clear that Lili prioritizes the needs of Little Guy over her husband, and only when Little Guy is...
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