a look into the characters of mia warren and elena richardson illustrates how author celeste ng explored the themes of control and destiny in little fires everywhere.
in the story, elena is a lifelong resident of shaker heights (besides when she left to get her college degree). she is obsessed with planning every aspect of her life and believes that so long as she follows the plan she has carefully laid out for herself and her family, nothing can really go wrong. this also makes it easier for her to judge her neighbors because she believes that people’s lives are mainly a reflection of their own choices.
on the other hand, mia is a talented artist who rents an apartment from the richardsons and lives down the street from their large suburban home. as the story unfolds, the reader learns more about mia’s complicated past, involving how she ended up being the mother to her daughter, pearl, and why she doesn’t have a partner in her life to help raise her.
elena presumably did everything right. she went to school, married a good man, had children, bought a big house, and maintained a respectable career as a journalist. she worked out three times a week, ate a healthy diet, and was involved with community organizations. but this didn’t stop her children from getting their hearts broken, making mistakes, and choosing vastly different paths than her own. it also didn’t prevent her from feeling frustrated by the limitations her career put on her and from pushing away good friends because of the insecurities she harbored about her own life and the decisions she made along the way.
mia is far from having everything planned out: she moves on a whim every time her creative instincts tell her she needs to go somewhere else to work on her next project. she never leaves anything permanent in the place she lives; she only keeps furniture and items that allow her to pick up and leave. she is weary of getting too close to anyone so she typically avoids friendships and relationships that go beyond the surface level. she takes temporary jobs to make ends meet but is not interested in establishing roots or a long-term career.
initially, elena welcomes mia to shaker heights and feels a sense of pity for her. she is eager to offer mia a job as a housekeeper at her home, she welcomes pearl to spend time with the richardsons whenever she wants, and she takes mia on as a tenant even though her income is far from stable. but as elena begins to feel threatened by mia’s presence and the way that elena’s own children seem to feel gravitated toward mia and pearl, elena starts to resent the warrens. she is fueled by this resentment as she goes on a campaign to learn the truth behind mia and pearl’s story.
elena planned her future out scrupulously. mia lived day to day. neither of them were prepared for the ending of little fires everywhere. their dynamic speaks to a lot of different things, but one of the main points i gathered was that no matter how much we try to micromanage our fates, the best we can do is try to learn from our differences.
and brace ourselves for the little (and big) fires that will inevitably arise.