Little Fires Everywhere

by

Celeste Ng

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Fire Symbol Icon

“Sometimes, just when you think everything’s gone, you find a way,” Mia Warren tells Izzy Richardson, referring to Bebe Chow’s loss of her daughter, May Ling, to the custody of the McCulloughs. “Like after a prairie fire.” Fire—literally and figuratively—is omnipresent throughout the novel. It is in the book’s title, and a mysterious fire is the plot’s first major event, placed at the beginning of the first chapter and used as a framing device for the rest of the book as it delves into the months leading up to the blaze. Fire, again and again, serves as a metaphor for renewal and a symbol of the scorched physical and emotional landscape that the Richardsons, and the whole town of Shaker Heights, don’t yet know they’re living on.

Tied inextricably into themes of order and disruption, fire symbolizes both loss and the potential for beginning anew. May Ling Chow—adopted by the McCullough family and renamed Mirabelle—is abandoned by her birth mother, Bebe Chow, at a fire station. When Izzy Richardson, fascinated by Mia Warren’s art and lifestyle, begs to become her photography assistant, Mia describes feeling as if “something inside Izzy [has] reached out to something in her and caught fire.” Whenever fire appears in the text, it denotes the arrival of a moment of renewal, as well as a character’s encounter with a point of no return. The mystery around which the novel rotates is who set the fire that claims the Richardsons’ house, and why. The fire is revealed to be the product one of those points of no return—a culmination of the messy interweaving of families and blurring of boundaries that develops between the Richardsons and the Warrens. Izzy Richardson, miserable over Pearl and Mia’s sudden departure and the prospect of “going back to life as it had been before [they arrived,]” plots to burn down her own home. Mia’s words of encouragement echo in her ear as she uses a can of gasoline from the garage to cover each room of the house in accelerant—“Sometimes,” Mia told her earlier in the narrative, “you need to scorch everything to the ground and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow.” Inspired by the prospect of renewal, angry at her family for driving the Warrens away, and desperate to regain the sense of acceptance she felt with Mia, Izzy starts a series of “little fires everywhere” throughout her own home, reducing the grand structure to a burnt-out hull before running away, perhaps for good.

Fire Quotes in Little Fires Everywhere

The Little Fires Everywhere quotes below all refer to the symbol of Fire. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of Little Fires Everywhere published in 2017.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“The firemen said there were little fires everywhere,” Lexie said. “Multiple points of origin. Possible use of accelerant. Not an accident.”

Related Characters: Lexie Richardson (speaker), Izzy Richardson
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

“Is she going to be okay?”
“She’s going to survive, if that’s what you mean.” Mia stroked Izzy’s hair. It was like Pearl’s, like her own had been as a little girl: the more you tried to smooth it, the more she insisted on springing free. “She’s going to get through this because she has to.”
“But how?”
“I don’t know, honestly. But she will. Sometimes, just when you think everything’s gone, you find a way. Like after a prairie fire. I saw one, years ago. It seems like the end of the world. The earth is scorched and black and everything green is gone. But after the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too, you know. They start over. They find a way.”

Related Characters: Mia Warren (speaker), Izzy Richardson (speaker), Bebe Chow
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Little Fires Everywhere LitChart as a printable PDF.
Little Fires Everywhere PDF

Fire Symbol Timeline in Little Fires Everywhere

The timeline below shows where the symbol Fire appears in Little Fires Everywhere. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
...new item of gossip to discuss—the Richardson family’s house has burned down in a raging fire and Izzy, the youngest of the Richardson children, is the suspect. All the following summer... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
...Mrs. Richardson stands on the lawn in her bathrobe. She had been asleep when the fire started, after a late night awake and distressed over the departure of the tenants at... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
The house had smelled of gasoline and a fire had been set in the middle of each family member’s bed. Mrs. Richardson finally ran... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
When the fire is finally put out, it’s revealed that the house hasn’t been entirely burned down—a “brick... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
...or “the adults” will probably pay for. Trip laughs, thinking about the “nutcase” Izzy starting fires, and Moody wonders why his siblings are so sure Izzy is responsible. Trip says everyone... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Moody then suggests it could have been an accident, but Lexie argues that “the firemen said there were little fires everywhere. Multiple points of origin. Not an accident.” Moody chastises... (full context)
Chapter 7
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...assistant, offering to work for free. Something in Izzy “reache[s] out to [Mia] and [catches] fire,” and Mia agrees to take Izzy under her wing. (full context)
Chapter 9
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...Bebe. She has a “sense of what she [is] starting,” feeling the sensation of wafting “smoke from a far-off blaze,” but decides that it is “unbearable” to imagine Bebe without her... (full context)
Chapter 11
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...a college friend asked her to go to California with him, she refused: “passion, like fire,” she thought then and thinks now, is “dangerous.” Her thoughts circle back to Mia, who... (full context)
Chapter 16
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...desperation, misery, and the complicated circumstances that led to her leaving May Ling at the fire station. Though May Ling was undernourished, Bebe had been unable to produce milk; though May... (full context)
Chapter 18
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...her that she will, and to do so uses as a metaphor of a prairie fire, which scorches the earth and depletes “everything green,” but leaves the soil richer after the... (full context)
Chapter 19
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...proper way to say goodbye, reminds Izzy of what she told her about the prairie fire the other day, and asks her if she understands. Izzy “[i]sn’t sure” that she does,... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...parents’ bedroom, and retrieves a box of matches. She remembers Mia’s words about the prairie fire, and lights the match and drops it onto Lexie’s bed as she plans to attempt... (full context)
Chapter 20
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Altruism and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
The fire trucks have left, and “the shell of the Richardson house [is] steaming gently.” Mrs. Richardson... (full context)
Order vs. Disruption Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience Theme Icon
...Richardsons gather at the duck pond near their burned house, Izzy, with “the smell of smoke still [in] her hair,” boards a greyhound bus for Pittsburgh. She has found the Wrights’... (full context)