If you could keep and cherish 1 thing that belonged to your parents what would it be? Would you save their favorite baseball card, maybe dad’s ball glove, or mom’s favorite family photograph? Almost everyone always wants to save that one piece that just melts into their heart as they reminisce about their parents or loved ones. This was no different for Eddie in Jean Rhys ‘The Day They Burned the Books’.
Eddie a mixed child with both Caribbean roots from his mother, and English blood from his father was never able to truly feel a connection with his father until his passing. For Eddie the one thing that brought him home with memories of his father was his father’s books. While Eddie began to appreciate the books after his father’s passing, his mother Mrs. Sawyer did not have the same feelings.
During the span of her marriage to Mr. Sawyer, Mrs. Sawyer suffered both physical and mental abuse as Mr. Sawyer would slur “You damned long-eyed, gloomy half-caste, you don’t smell right” (Greenblatt, pg. 723) In the end of her husband’s life while his books were a comfort to her son Eddie, and helped Eddie to keep a connection with his father, the books for Mrs. Sawyer were a constant reminder of her English oppressor. To her the books stood for Mr. Sawyer’s hold over her and seeing the books left the lingering feeling of oppression. Having the books around still kept Mr. Sawyer’s legacy behind, and with Eddie’s new fascination meant the legacy would continue on in Eddie. For Eddie and his father the books were a sense of home and comfort. Something to bring warm memories back, for Mr. Sawyer of his homeland, for Eddie of his father. Neither of them meant for the feelings of hate and bitterness to come to Mrs. Sawyer through their presence.
The one thing I find very interesting and intriguing about the idea of Mr. Sawyer living on in his books, in the end of the short story the main character looks at the book she grabbed before being burned and it read ‘Fort Comme La Mort’. While I could not find much in English on this title I was able to find that the author was Guy de Maupassant. In looking deeper into the author’s background the irony became quite alarming. Guy de Maupassant was a son of a separate couple. A couple in which the mother separated from his father because of abuse. Not only is this oddly similar to ‘The Day the Books were Burned’, but Guy’s mother was also very much so educated in literature (Wikipedia). Is it really a coincidence that this is the book that survived the ‘execution’ of Mr. Sawyers spirit. Was the survival of this book Rhys sly way of keeping the oppression alive? More importantly would Eddie get ahold of this book and would the legacy continue in him? Some questions that apply not only to Rhys’ literary piece but also to our lives today. Tell me is what you leave your loved ones with going to comfort, or enrage them?
Greenblatt, S. and Robson, C. (n.d.). The Norton anthology of English literature.
"Guy De Maupassant." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 17 Aug. 2001, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_de_Maupassant. Accessed 10 June 2019.