More than a central conflict, the complexity within “A wall of fire” is, like most Edwidge Danticat stories, an intermingling of the poverty of a family and its inevitable desires to achieve some form of progress: a desire and longing that are printed in the lives of many Haitian families. However, the three main characters in the story do represent different forms of conflict. For instance, in the life of Guy, a man who tries to earn a living honestly and manage to feed his wife and child, the most obvious difficulty is the longing to fly; to fly away from famine, from humiliating jobs, and the problems that accompany life in Haiti. And all that flying away from his difficulties is represented by the desire of flying a hot air balloon that often attracts more of his attention than his own family.
Guy, throughout his story, is increasingly affected by the words of the Haitian revolutionary leader Dutty Boukman, interpreted by his son, Little Guy, and that may have little or no relation to what the leader may have expressed. However, they are words that constantly recall the pain, loss, and desire for the triumph that the Haitian people have maintained throughout their struggle for a better life. That way, Little Guy is not only a reason of pride for his father but also a reminder of the few possibilities his family has to prosper. And so, for Guy and his family, a steady job at the sugar mill, while it means a possibility of a better life is also the place where lies the representation of Guy’s most wanted dream: flying a hot air balloon.
Therefore, the moment when Guy gets a job in the sugar mill, where the lush balloon steals more of his attention and his delighted sight becomes the central theme of the tale. Thus, what for Guy meant a painful job (cleaning latrines), for his wife Lili was an honest job, proving once again, the strong and energetic attitude that Danticat always commemorates of the Haitian women. Meanwhile, although Guy gets increasingly desperate, wanting to fly away from his problems, from humiliating jobs, his country, and perhaps even his family, his wife Lili keeps her worries about the possibilities his son has in life, the issue of obtaining the food of each day, and what to do with a husband who, of being able to fly, would leave his family behind.
The unthinkable happens when Little Guy and Lili, next to other workers and nearby residents of the sugar mill, are witnesses of how Guy flies the skies and managed, to the astonishment of many, to lift off the ground a balloon with a complex mechanism to fly it. With such action, Guy made true the words he usually repeated to his wife: he could make the balloon fly and he was certain of that. Such moment could be thought of as the resolution of the central conflict of the story; yet, it also represents the beginning of a tragedy, Since, as Guy moves further and further away from his family, it seems he cannot continue with the journey, leading on to a terrible and traumatic suicide when he jumps from the hot balloon.
This sort of end to the story is a clear symbol of the desires of migration of a man who, seeing himself away from his family and his native place cannot avoid repentance and remorse and, taking the most drastic way out of his internal debate; a debate that Danticat constantly introduces in her histories: to leave Haiti with the hope of a better future of their own or to stay in the country with the hope of a collective progress that never seems to come. On the other hand, along this central moment, it can also be found great allusions to the fire and its participation in the liberation of slaves. Since, as well as Boukman organized an uprising of slaves whose fire represented the weapon for their liberation, Guy was able to make use of the fire to rise from his prison, given that, as he rudimentary explained to his wife, the fire was what the balloon needed to fly.
However, both actions achieve an uncertain liberation and irremediable destruction: the fire knocking down thousands of fields of sugar cane on one side and a family without father and sustenance on the other. In consequence, at the end of this story, the reader does not entirely find a resolution to the conflict that has been constructed. Instead, the author offers a harsh but truthful reality: one that cannot be ignored. Such tale, by been so real, allows a greater understanding of the lives of the people who inspired characters like these; they show how complex the struggle for a greater future within a country as difficult as Haiti can be.
“A wall of fire” is a clear representation of the Haitian people’s quest to free themselves from hunger and poverty. And so, Guy is the perfect example of how, just as his slave ancestors wanted to get away from the slave labor of sugarcane plantations, he wants to get away from the miserable and dead-end job at the sugar mill. Boukman’s words accompany Guy’s death through Little Guy, to recall the sadness in the faces of “his people” and the idea of preferring death rather than a life without freedom.