Fireweed is a short story written by Skye Brannon about a special day in Baluta’s life. Baluta is an uneducated carpenter in U.S.A, and lives with his brother Jato and the brother’s wife Sama. Baluta has had a rough background, he was witness to his father and sisters death, and had to flee to America, from Libya from war and hate.
There are several themes in the story, such as, culture difference, racism and poverty, but all these, are sub-themes. The overall main theme of this short story must be to cherish the present, and take nothing for granted. The fact that Baluta saw his dad getting killed and his sister raped and killed, is a view into an absurd world of violence and hate, described without many feelings. “He saw his father, swinging from a tree, on a rope”, and “He saw little Alonso’s ten-year old body, limp, naked in the sun, being passed from one soldier to another, his pants mingling with the dust.” This is a matter of course that he will never take anything for granted, because he has learned that he will never know when it’s going to stop. A more positive sign on the main them, of this short story, is that he is actually having a better life now, in America. And he won’t take that for granted even though, there are a lot of other people with much better conditions, like Tiffany.
The way the story is structured
Fireweed is written with a third person narrator who is omniscient. All the actions are seen from Baluta’s point of view. “Cold like Kpatawee Falls back home, Baluta thought. Yes, today would be a remembering day” page 9, line 9. In this quote it’s clear that the narrator is omniscient since he knows what Baluta thinks. The story is told in the past tense, except for the quotes which are in present.
The short story is simple to read, because of the uncomplicated language that is being used. It also makes it easier to read when something in the text that catches your attention, like the dialogs between the two brothers, Baluta and Jato, because they speak with an African accent. “”Dese Americans,” Jato said, “if you tell dem your mandika name, dey look loke you’ve given dem a riddle””.
The story also contains a few flashbacks which might get a bit confusing. It is not possible to figure out the story before the end, because a lot of important details are revealed that you won’t be able to guess. It keeps the author’s attention, and helps out to keep the story exciting and interesting.
A Characterization of Baluta/Joel
Baluta/Joel is a person that doesn’t seek conflicts or controversies with other people which you can see on page 9, line 17 “Baluta felt awful for this, but he had to work to get a car, and needed a car to get to work” and again at page 10 when Tiffany asks Baluta to smash down some dirt which in the theory isn’t his job, but he just says “Sure, miss” because he is a nice person. “Could you please smash down that pile of dirt?” Another example of Baluta trying to fit into the new society that he is in, is shown by him changing his name from Baluta to Joel, just so he won’t be a victim of racism.
The fact that Baluta fled from Liberia to a country where he has all these opportunities, that U.S.A provides, makes him not take anything for granted, and I think that Skye Brannon took Tiffany into the story on purpose because she is the exact opposite of Baluta, a rich, white, lady. “”This has got to be fixed.” She looked at Baluta for confirmation. Baluta nodded, but saw nothing wrong. The cabinet was of beautiful hardwood.” This quote helps to characterize both Baluta and Tiffany.
The story is built up around three environments; the first one is in America, where Baluta lives with his brother and the sister in law. They live very poorly, with cold water in the shower and a car in bad condition, which they don’t have enough money to fix. “When he was several numbers away, he took his foot off the gas. He hoped he could glide to a stop in front of the correct house, otherwise, the Swiss Chevy would let out a loud squeal when he hit the brake.” This quote shows that they have to take a lot of alternative methods in use, to make it through the day, like saving money on the car.
The next environment is even poorer, we hear about his life in Libya. “When they would get back to their hut, a square in the shanty-town quilt shadowed by a mountain, Alonso would always tell Grandma Awa that Baluta had caught some fish.” Even though Baluta lives in the lower economic class in the U.S, it’s still far better than what he would have obtained in Libya.
The last environment is at Tiffany’s house, where Baluta has a job to do. She is a rich woman with a big house, big lawn, and apparently also big signs of prejudices against African people. “When he got out of the car, he noticed a frightened look on her face and that she clutched a phone in her hand”.In this quote it is easy to see that, because she belongs to the upper-class, she feels that poorer people might only be here to steal. This is important because it proves the point of one of the story’s theme, racism.