Why Fire?

by , 2005

Fire obviously plays an important role in "Some Say the World." The story's title, an allusion to Robert Frost's poem "Fire and Ice," immediately tells us to be on the lookout for the fire theme. We do not have to wait long to find it. In the very first line, the unnamed narrator states, "There is fire in my heart. I do what I can" (256). Why all the fire? Well, in order to fully understand Susan Perabo's story, we must find out. I suggest that the unnamed narrator is using fire to help combat her feelings of loneliness created by a neglectful mother. The times that the narrator mentions fire are times when her mother abandoned her. She chooses fire as a substitute for a relationship to her mother because she can be motherly to the fire; she tries to be the mother for the fire that she does not have herself. It is important that we understand why the narrator is obsessed with fire because without that understanding, we cannot read into the underlying layers of Perabo's story.

The fact that the narrator's first mention of fire comes at a time when her divorced parents are out in a hotel having an affair suggests that there is a connection between the parents' atypical relationship and the narrator's obsession. The narrator says that "[t]hey have met every Monday in the same motel since I was in the sixth grade and playing with lighters under my covers after bedtime" (257). While her parents are under the covers in the hotel room, the narrator is under her own covers and playing with fire. The sexual fire that the parents have is translated into literal fire in the daughter. That is not to say that the narrator wants a sexual relationship with either of her parents; rather, she just wants the emotional closeness that exists between them. Every time the mother goes to meet the father in the hotel, she is abandoning her daughter. And, every time that the narrator is abandoned by her mother, she begins playing with fire.

A later incident when the narrator gets in trouble with fire also comes at time when her mother has abandoned her, again suggesting that the mother's abandonment of her is causing her obsession. She writes, "[a]t Neiman Marcus, where my mother works, they found my in a dressing room last winter with a can of lighter fluid and my pockets stuffed with old underwear and dishtowels" (258). There are several important clues in this sentence that help show how the narrator's obsession with fire is functioning. First, the fact that she chose her mother's store as a location to start the fire shows that her actions are closely related to her. The narrator could have picked any store's fitting room to start the fire in, but she chose the one in Neiman Marcus so that she would be close to her mother. Also, the fact that her pockets were stuffed with lighter fluid, dishtowels, and underwear show that her fire was premeditated. She does not just show up at the store and then decide to burn something, grabbing whatever she could find. Instead, she brings with her items from home that reminded her of her mother. The old underwear and the dishtowels are both articles that are closely related to her mother. Finally, the fact that she is not burning Neiman Marcus' clothes, but instead her own, shows that the narrator is not creating the fire out of malice; she is not trying to hurt anyone with the fires, but instead is creating them to fulfill her emotional needs.

Comments that the narrator makes about the fire show that she has chosen fire to replace her relationship with her mother because she can be motherly to the fire. She tells us, "[t]he thing about fire is this: it is yours for one glorious moment. You bear it, you raise it" (258). The words 'bear' and 'raise' are both heavily connoted with motherhood. The narrator sees her fires as her children. Knowing though that her fire can get out of her control, she plans to "love it only to a point and then kill it" (258) but she fails to "kill it" in the bathroom of the record store. The fire she creates, her metaphorical child, is allowed to grow out of control because the narrator loves it so much that she cannot destroy it. Similarly, the mother could have had an abortion and killed her unborn daughter, the fire inside of her, but chose not too.

After concluding that fire is a substitution for the narrator's lacking relationship with her mother, we can reinterpret the concluding scene of the story, where she and Mr. Arnette are riding a Ferris wheel above "a circle of teenagers standing around a small bonfire, warming their hands. Sparks pop around them and die in the grass as the flame reaches higher" (268). This bonfire is not one of the narrator's 'children.' It is created by other people and serves an entirely different purpose. Instead of using it to fill emotional gaps, the teenagers are simply using it to warm their hands. The flames are growing and the "Ferris wheel whips [the narrator and Mr. Arnette] towards it" (268) but then, as she sits with Mr. Arnette, a caring stepfather who has helped to fill her emotional void, they are moved "away again, up into the night" (268). The story ends with the narrator moving away from fire because she has finally found a meaningful parental relationship.