Guy, Lili, and Little Guy live in a one-room shack in a shantytown in Haiti’s countryside. Lili is a stay-at-home mother, Little Guy goes to school, and Guy works odd jobs. One day Guy comes home with news to tell. Before he can share his news, Little Guy says proudly that he was assigned the lead role in his school play. Lili encourages Little Guy to recite one of his monologues for his father. The play is about the Haitian revolutionary Dutty Boukman, and is full of passionate, fiery language. Little Guy gives a spirited performance for his parents, and their applause thunders in their little house.
The family eats their meager dinner of cornmeal mush and decides to go to the local sugar mill for entertainment. The government had installed a large television near the mill so that Haitians living in the shantytown could watch the state-sponsored news. Once the news finishes, people stay around to make bonfires and complain about the government. Over the past year, however, Guy and his family have found their own amusement. The Assads, the wealthy Haitian-Lebanese family that runs the sugar mill, have a hot air balloon from America that they fly in the skies above the shantytown. When not in use, the hot air balloon is locked away in a field surrounded by a chain link fence. While Lili and Little Guy enjoy looking at the balloon, Guy is completely obsessed with it. Lili is concerned about her husband’s fascination with the balloon, but tries not to show it.
After stretching his hands through holes in the fence as if to touch the balloon, Guy stops and sits with his wife on the grass. He tells Lili that he knows he can make the balloon fly. Before Lili can question him further, Little Guy asks his father to play hide-and-seek with him. The father and son play until Guy becomes breathless. He sits down again next to Lili while Little Guy runs off. Guy begins to tell Lili about his news from earlier, but Little Guy runs up behind them and interrupts. When Lili announces that it is time to go home, Little Guy protests under his breath. His father squeezes his ear in punishment. Lili steps in, and Guy grows angry because he thinks she is undermining him. He storms off towards their house, and his family follows behind him.
At home, Lili puts Little Guy to bed and performs her nightly ablutions. Guy walks in and notes time’s effects on his wife’s body. The couple lies down on their sleeping mat and Guy is finally able to tell Lili his news. He was able to secure a few hours of work at the sugar mill. This is good news, because jobs at the mill are hard to come by. Lili wonders why Guy isn’t more excited about the work, and he tells her it’s because he will be scrubbing the latrines of the mill. Lili tries to console him, but Guy remains bitter. He is number 78 on the sugar mill’s permanent job waiting list. He muses aloud about whether he should put Little Guy’s name on the list now, so that he will have a job once he’s an adult. Lili protests, saying that she doesn’t want to limit her son’s future. Guy agrees to not put their son’s name on the list.
Guy and Lili’s conversation drifts back to the hot air balloon. Guy imagines himself flying the balloon, high in the sky like a bird. Lili tells him that if God wanted humans to fly, he would have given them wings. Guy agrees, but then wonders why God made the air and birds, because they make humans want to fly. Before Lili can respond, Little Guy screams and disturbs the peace of the night. He dreamt that he could not remember his lines. His parents help him remember and they all go to sleep.
The next evening, Little Guy comes home with more lines for his play. Guy is exhausted from his day working at the mill, but sits and listens to his son’s oration. The speech is about freedom and liberation, and brings tears to Guy’s eyes. He hugs his son, congratulations him on his success, and leaves the house.
After dinner, Lili takes Little Guy to the field because she knows that’s where they can find Guy. Sure enough, Guy is sitting next to the fence with the hot air balloon. When Lili joins him on the grass, Guy tells her not to ask him about his day. He tells her that she will raise their son to be a performer. He says he wishes he could fly the hot air balloon to a place where he can build his own house. Lili says she wants him to stay away from the balloon from now on. She knows that she and Little Guy aren’t included in his fantasies about it, and this scares her. Guy doesn’t respond and falls asleep on top of her. When he wakes up, he asks her how a man is judged once he’s gone. Lili replies that a man is judged by his deeds, and adds that their son has never gone to bed hungry. Just then, Little Guy runs up to them, and the little family goes home.
This time, Guy helps Lili with her nightly ritual. As he helps his wife rub lemon over her skin, Guy returns to their earlier discussion. He says he knows the answer to his question of how a man is remembered. He remembers his father, who was a struggling poor man his entire life. Guy remembers him as a man he would never want to be.
The next morning, Guy and Little Guy leave for work and school. Lili goes to the public water fountain with a few other women. On her way back, she sees a terrified Little Guy waiting for her at their house. At first she thinks her son forgot his lines again, but then Little Guy tells her that Guy has taken the balloon. The boy points to the sky as Guy sails over their heads in the balloon.
Lili and Little Guy go to the field by the sugar mill. A crowd has gathered to watch Guy fly the balloon. Among them is a member of the Assad family, who wonders how Guy is managing to fly the balloon by himself. Suddenly, the crowd begins to scream because it looks like Guy is going to jump from the balloon. Lili hides Little Guy’s face in her skirt as her husband hurtles through the air. Guy hits the ground not far from the gathered crowd and immediately begins to bleed out. Assad goes to check for a pulse, but Guy is already dead. The hot air balloon continues to float along and disappears into the distance.
Lili and Little Guy rush over to Guy’s body. Workers from the sugar mill come with a cot and blanket for the body. As they drape the cloth over Guy’s body, Little Guy begins to recite another line from his play. Lili asks to look at her husband’s face for one last time. She traces her husband’s features with her eyes, looking for something that could remind her of the man she had married. One of the workers asks if she wants to close Guy’s eyes. Lili says no, because her husband liked to look at the sky.
The title of “A Wall of Fire Rising” comes from a line in the play in which Little Guy is acting. The play is about Dutty Boukman, a Haitian revolutionary who helped Haiti gain its independence from France. Various monologues from the play are scattered throughout “A Wall of Fire Rising,” imbuing the story’s atmosphere with fire and passion. The inclusion of a figure like Boukman in a story that already resonates with feelings of freedom and hope helps to solidify these themes in the work.
All three of the main characters in “A Wall of Fire Rising” have freedom on their minds. For Little Guy, wide-eyed and innocent, freedom is a concept dicussed in his play. While it’s fun to memorize lines about freedom and perform for his family, he doesn’t have a clear idea about what freedom actually means. For Guy and Lili, however, freedom is a more complicated topic. Guy struggles daily to provide for his family. The lack of job opportunities in their town means that some nights the family survives on flavored water for sustenance. For him, freedom means being able to earn a livelihood for his family. He fears being like his own father, who was a struggling and poor man his entire life. As time goes on and Guy’s job prospects don’t improve, he begins to turn to the Assads’ hot air balloon for solace. Lili recognizes that her husband is increasingly obsessed with the hot air balloon. She fears that in his search for freedom Guy will leave her and Little Guy behind. Her fears prove to be well founded when Guy commits suicide.
Besides being a major source of conflict in the story and the vehicle of Guy’s suicide, the hot air balloon is also a symbol of freedom, hope, class, and economic prosperity. It is no coincidence that the Assads, the wealthy owners of the most profitable business in town, own the hot air balloon. As a quirky piece of technology from America, the balloon personifies decadence, excess wealth, and exclusivity. The inhabitants of the shantytown know that the hot air balloon is something they can never hope to own. Guy frequently fantasizes about using the hot air balloon to fly away from his responsibilities and the harsh realities of his life. For him, the hot air balloon represents his hopes for a better future. During one of his fantasies, the hot air balloon takes him to a place where he is free to build his own house–it literally acts as his vehicle to freedom. That is why at the end of the story he uses the balloon to commit suicide and escape from his earthly shackles. Perhaps in his mind committing suicide was his only means of achieving freedom.
Guy’s plan with the hot air balloon is heavily foreshadowed. During his last evening with his family he repeatedly tells Lili that she will take good care of Little Guy, that she will make a performer out of him. His use of “you” and not “we” in his statements about their son’s future is the first red flag. The second comes when he actually vocalizes to Lili his dreams of flying away in the balloon. Poor Lili doesn’t know that she should take his fantasies seriously. The last major piece of foreshadowing is Guy’s discussion of his father. He tells Lili that growing up, he never wanted to be like his father, who was “a very poor struggling man all his life” (Danticat 75). And yet, here he is, living in a one-room shanty house, struggling to put food in the mouths of his family. It is not Lili’s fault that she didn’t realize Guy’s feelings about living in poverty would drive him to take his own life. Rather, these indicators leading up to Guy’s suicide shows how resolute he was in his decision.
Unlike “Children of the Sea” and “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” “A Wall of Fire Rising” is less about Haiti’s politics and more about quotidian Haitian life. Haiti’s political, social, and economic struggles do play a part in the story’s events, but they form the backdrop of the drama and do not take center stage. Rather, it is the little triumphs and tragedies of Guy, Lili, and Little Guy that are the focus of the story. This change in scope from the macro to the micro level is partly what makes Krik? Krak! a diverse collection of stories.