Themes of Poverty, Illiteracy, and Family Love in "A Wall of Fire Rising" by Edwidge Danticat

Published: 2021-07-09
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Boston College
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The author presents a narrative of a speech that captures the period in anti-slavery revolution across led by Boukman. The choice of a child to narrate the rising wall of fire burning the bones of people appears to be a promise that the child has a burning desire to conquer the circumstances of poverty that his parents are living. The child states, "A wall of fire is rising, and in the ashes, I see the bones of my people. Not only those people whose dark hollow faces I see daily in the fields but also all those souls who have gone ahead to haunt my dreams. At night I relive once more the last caresses from the hand of a loving father, steadfast love, a beloved friend (Krik 58). In this essay, I will show the instances where the author has managed to bring out the themes of poverty, illiteracy, and family love as set off in the first passage in "A Wall of Fire Rising."

The statements carried in the speech narrated by Guy's son give a hint to a child with an ambition to change the life of his people. The ambition has been nurtured by the child's interactions with his people and those of his ilk who have died before. The speech narrated by the son to his mother and father is an anti-slavery speech that was described by Boukman a slave revolt in Europe (Krik 62). Boukman felt haunted by the death of slaves who had died before, and the despicable life led by the other slaves working in the fields. The slaves appeared hopeless, going by the narrator's description of people with "dark hollow faces."

The boys mother prompts him to speak up what is on his mind. The boy states out that, Freedom is on my mind (Krik 63). The family seems to be so troubled with the burdens of living an impoverished life. They desire to have achieved freedom from the yoke of poverty. Guy, the boys father, is overwhelmed by emotions after his son recites the speech by Boukman. It reminds him of his inability to provide for his family. In fact, he holds back tears when trying to divert attention from the boys speech.

Instead of congratulating the boy just as her mother did, he shifts the topic of discussion by stating long live our supper. The family lives in a lowly house structure made of rusting tin roof. The author indicates that the boy tipped his head towards the rusting tin on the roof as he prepared to recite his lines. The author aims to highlight the circumstances of poverty that this young family is living him. The mother of the boy, Lili, wipes her hand on an old apron further elaborating the misery lived by the couple. The boys mother is preparing cornmeal mush for the family to eat as supper. They cannot afford a decent meal, making them do with the cheap low-quality foods that they can afford. The author states, "His wife, Lili, was squatting in the middle of their one-room home, spreading cornmeal mush on banana leaves for their supper."

The author also brings out the theme of illiteracy by portraying the son's father as less educated. When the boy pulls out a book to read, the father thinks it would take the kid a lifetime to be able to grasp what is contained in the book. He says, Youre going to spend a lifetime learning those. Guy (the boys father) also struggles to read out the name of Boukman as written in the text. The author states Guy struggled with the letters of the revolutionarys name as he looked over his son's shoulders (Krik 65)." "I see some tough words here, son." The problem of illiteracy may be a pointer to the poverty that beckons the young family described in the text. Guy is possibly doing menial jobs to support his family, furthering the cycle of poverty and desperation.

The author also manages to develop the theme of household love successfully. Guy, despite being a poor man, is brought out as loving to his wife and son. The boy drops his composition notebook and rushes to meet his father to tell him about the new play he had learned. The father receives him and strokes his hair affectionately to show love (Krik 66). The boy also talks about receiving the last caresses from the hand of a loving father, a valiant love, a beloved friend. From these statements, the author depicts Guy as a loving father to his son. Guy also loves his wife. He is used to giving his wife some nightly pecks on the cheek as a show of affection. The author explains, Lili got up from the floor and inclined her face towards her husband's to receive her nightly peck on the cheek (Krik 71)."

In conclusion, the author manages to create a narrative laden with strong themes of family love, poverty, and illiteracy in the first passage of the text. The reader gets the impression that Guy's family lives in abject poverty in a tiny tin shack. However, the family is living in love. The son feels a deep emotional attachment to his father and mother. The parents also show romantic affection to one another. It is evident that Guy is not happy with the state of abject poverty they are living. Guy also comes out as less educated, following his admission on the difficulty of reading the word Boukman.


Work Cited

Danticat, Edwidge. "A Wall of Fire Rising.." Krik? Krak (2009): 51-80.



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