Fire in the Ashes Summary & Study Guide

Jonathan Kozol

Fire in the Ashes

  • 38-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 13 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a education specialist with graduate degrees in history and literature
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Fire in the Ashes Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 38-page guide for “Fire in the Ashes” by Jonathan Kozol includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 13 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Invisibility of the Poor and The Power of Education.

Plot Summary

Fire in the Ashes is writer Jonathan Kozol’s account of spending twenty-five years chronicling the lives of poor children in New York City. He begins with an account of the Martinique, a decrepit homeless shelter in midtown Manhattan that was closed in the late 1980s. It housed thousands of homeless people, mainly women and children, in criminally-decrepit conditions and a state of lawlessness that forever marked the children who lived there.

In subsequent chapters, Kozol explains what happened to two of the boys who lived in the Martinique. Eric was one such boy; his mother, Vicky, was already fragile emotionally. When the family was moved to the South Bronx, they connected with St. Ann’s, a local church run by a remarkable woman named Martha Overall. Later, Eric, Vicky, and Vicky’s daughter, Lisette, moved, thanks to a bequest from a church in Montana, to that state. Despite a promising beginning, Eric, always wary of people after growing up in the Martinique and the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, wound up killing himself with a self-inflicted shotgun wound.

Kozol also profiles a boy named Christopher, whose father, Pietro, lived with his children and mother in the Martinique and the Bronx. Christopher, who was panhandling at a young age to get food and trinkets for himself and his younger sisters, went on to a life of criminality. After serving time, he had a good job at a gym, but he wound up overdosing on heroin and dying at a young age. Kozol also profiles Silvio, a boy who had been at the Martinique and whose life ended at age 14 when he died riding on top of a subway car. The author concludes this section with the story of Alice, a smart woman with an acerbic sense of humor who, following her stay in the Martinique and then in the Bronx, was diagnosed with HIV and later died of a form of lung cancer.

In the second part of the book, Kozol includes the stories of survivors—children who, because of the caring and intervention of people around them, arrived at adulthood, with bumps along the way, ready to contribute to the world around them and with an intact self of sense. These stories include that of Leonardo, a loveable and bright boy whose loving mother helped him reach college and a potential career as a stand-up comedian. Kozol devotes a great deal of this section of the book to Pineapple, an irrepressible kid he met when she was a kindergartener in the Bronx and whose willingness to struggle did not subside while she went on scholarship to a private middle school in Manhattan and, later, a school in Rhode Island. He chronicles the story of her family and her sisters and brother, who thrive, though their father and mother are forced to return to Guatemala. The story of Jeremy is a particularly poignant one, as Jeremy was a bright and curious kid who suffered through Bronx schools that put him in an isolation room because he asked questions that were not conducive to preparing for standardized tests. Kozol also describes the paths of Angelo and Benjamin, boys who had troubles but who grew into caring and thoughtful men. In the Epilogue, Kozol discusses the ways in which the growth of the children who thrived was possible because of the intervention of caring people, including people like Episcopal priest Martha Overall, at St. Ann’s in the South Bronx.

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Chapters 1-3