The short story ”Fireweed” is written by Sky Brannon in 2009. The story is about Baluta, who is working as a carpenter. It’s the remembering day for the loss of his sister. Baluta is working for a lady named Tiffany. Throughout the day he is continuing to think about his sister, but at the time Tiffany mentions the word “fireweed”, he starts thinking about the murder of his father and grandmother. He doesn’t want to think of that day.
The story is told in a third person, where we as readers get an insight in some of Baluta’s feelings and how he sees other people. It’s an all-knowing narrator, because we aren’t really inside Baluta’s head, but we know how he feels anyway. The story is told in past tense and has two parallel stories running side by side. The flashbacks are about his life in Liberia and the present story is about his new life in America. There is a flashback every time something he sees on his way or something there is talked about is reminding him on something that happened in Liberia. In the present time we hear about him working at a cabinet in Tiffany’s house. But in the meantime we also hear about his childhood and his sister. In the last flashback he is thinking about the murder of his father, sister and his grandmother. The flashbacks are also told in a third person and is written is a past tense like the rest of the story.
Baluta is a young Liberian man, who is living in America. Baluta is currently living with his brother and sister-in-law. His brother, Jato, says that Baluta needs to change his Liberian name, and come up with a more American name. Baluta is calling himself Joel, when he is working. Baluta is working as a carpenter, so he needs a car to get to work. He doesn’t have the money for a car, so he is using his brother’s car. “Baluta felt awful for this, but he had to work to get a car, and needed a car to get to work”. Baluta thinks it’s sweet of them to loan him their car, but he also feels awful that they have to take the bus to get to work. The fact that Baluta is living with his brother and that he doesn’t have the money for a car could be an indication of him being poor. In the first line of the story we hear that it’s a remembering day for Baluta and later we find out that his is remembering his sister, father and grandmother, who all got killed. His family was killed back in Liberia while he was out plucking fireweed. Baluta didn’t see them get killed, but he saw the men that killed them and he also saw his father hanging from a tree and his grandmother lying in her own blood. This experience must have been very traumatising for him and you could see America as a new start for him.
Baluta is living in a poor neighbourhood. When he is driving to work he is driving through the ghettos in his neighbourhood. The setting is giving a clear indication of the poor conditions his is living under. In America it’s seen as poor, but compared to the conditions he lived under in Liberia, this is much better. In the flashbacks he is thinking about his life in Liberia, and from what his is thinking we get a positive impression. He isn’t thinking about the poorness and their lack of resources. The setting back in Liberia hasn’t had a negative impact on Baluta and his childhood there. The setting in America is on the other hand very important for the story. It’s not only Baluta’s conditions of life that is important for the story, it’s also Tiffany’s way of living. Tiffany is the woman Baluta is working for. The neighbourhood in which she is living in is wealthy and her house is described with the word “palatial”. She has a big diamond ring on, which indicates that she belongs to the upper part of the society. So there is a big contrast between the two societies Baluta and Tiffany belongs. The setting of the story is therefore an important part of the story and it’s also crucial for the theme and understanding of the whole story.
The main theme in the story is the difference between two very different cultures, but also the difference between two societies. Baluta and Tiffany are two highly different persons and it’s mainly because of their culture. When Tiffany sees Baluta for the first time she seems scared of him. “When he got out of the car, he noticed a frightened look on her face…” She is probably not used to see people like him in the neighbourhood and she clearly has a stereotype opinion about immigrant. She is maybe thinking that he is dangerous and that he is going to hurt her. She is rich and he is poor, so there is a contrast there. At the time she let him in, he overhears a conversation between her and her husband. She needs paint in the colour fireweed and that is obliviously a problem if she doesn’t get it. “Chet, if I don’t get that fireweed, I’m just going to die!” This is a really big problem for her, but if we look at Baluta’s relationship with the word “fireweed”, then her problem is ironic and seems very small. Baluta’s family was killed while he was plucking fireweed, so his problem is a real problem compared to her bagatelle of a problem. This is where we really see the difference between the fact of growing up in Liberia and growing up in America. It’s much easier to forget how lucky we are to live in a privileged country like America, than to forget that there are people that have much bigger problems.