The original ‘Girl on Fire’

Author: L E Orman
Length: short
Publication Details: Landfall, 142, vol. 36, no.2, June 1982, p. 129-132
Setting: New Zealand
Character(s): Miki, Michelle and Mum
Narrator: Mum
Keywords: motherhood, growing up, naivety, regret, adoption, mother’s intuition, caution, familial expectations, being impetuous, feeling discarded, loneliness, hindsight, heartache.

At the beginning of Orman’s writing career and well before The Hunger Games‘ “girl on fire”, there was Miki, with “eyes glinting in the firelight.” The title itself hints at what is to follow. Often, references to concepts of fire in texts represent chaos and destruction. However, this idea is somewhat softened by the addition of the word “song” which has different connotations.

Firesong is a little like a bildungsroman in one, compact chapter. We follow Miki’s development through three phases of her teenage life as she grapples with increasing responsibilities. Whether in fact she comes of age depends on your interpretation of the ending and her future.

The story reflects a changing relationship between mother and daughter which is clearly noted in Miki’s actions and change of character, as well as her mother’s comments.

As a 16 year old, Miki falls pregnant. But what will she do? Abort, adopt or give it all the aroha she has? How will she cope? What will happen when she is 18? Is there just one new member of the family or two? Who is the father? How will Mum react?

Key quote from L E Orman's 'Firesong'
Key quote from L E Orman’s ‘Firesong’

From the initial character description, it is clear that this is the product of a New Zealand author: “She was lovely, she had hair as black as the bush when the moon sleeps, and teeth as white as the manuka flower.” To deepen your understanding of this story, note the reference again to ‘black’ at the end and how the connotation has changed. What does it imply?

I first read this in the 6th form (Year 12, the penultimate year of secondary education). I wonder if I would have had the same reaction as I do now as an adult? I empathise with Mum, probably because she is the narrator, and am left feeling sad, angry and anxious. The final line is deep and haunting, even more so, when I learned that the idea for the story was inspired by something that actually happened to friends of the author.

Is it true though, that our choices define us forever?


Theme(s): Only fools rush in: Teenagers should enjoy being a teenager. There is plenty of time to be an adult – later. Think of others before yourself. Learn from experience. Experienced mothers know best. Be true to yourself. Nothing lasts.


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I am a secondary school teacher at a school in New Zealand.

2 thoughts on “Firesong”

  1. Sounds like a great story Karen. I’ll have to hunt it out. Would be interested to know your thoughts on Te Pou by Andre Ngapo which was a Sunday Star Times short story winner a few years ago. I’ve read, reread and shared with students. Great NZ short story.


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