Jean Rhys’s The Day They Burned the Books explores the idea of paternegacies and inheritance in detail, correlating with the themes for unit seven. The story follows Eddie, a young boy with a mulatto mother and white father in the West Indies during colonization. His father’s legacy is English culture, represented mainly through his expansive library. Eddie’s father built a library that he filled with new books each time the mail came from England. Clearly, the library and books were important to him. Eddie connects to his father’s love of reading, shown through his asking to borrow Arabian Nights in the beginning of the story and his continued reading of other books throughout the story. Because the library acts as part of his father’s legacy that he connects to, when Mr. Sawyer passes away, Eddie gravitates toward the library, saying, “My room…My books” (Greenblatt, 2018, p. 725). Without his father, Eddie just has his legacy to keep, which leads him to the library. Eddie holds tight to this legacy as he fights his mother when she begins emptying the room and burning the books: “’No,’ he said again in a high voice…he rushed at her, his eyes starting out of his head, shrieking, ‘Now I’ve got to hate you too. Now I hate you too” (Greenblatt, 2018, p. 725).
While Eddie fights for his father’s books, he did not value other parts of his father’s legacy as much. While talking about parts of English culture, Eddie says he “do[es]n’t like strawberries”—a part of England the children around him talked and wondered about (Greenblatt, 2018, p. 724). He goes on to say that he “do[es]n’t like daffodils either,” even though his father and other adults from England talk about how beautiful they are (Greenblatt, 208, p. 724). These quotes show that Eddie does not value some parts of English culture—another part of his father’s legacy. Eddie does not connect to these parts of English culture like he does to books, so this part of his father’s legacy will not live on in him. However, since he has a love of reading instilled in him, he will hold tight to the remains of his father’s library and continue to cherish this part of his legacy forever. When our parents die, we honestly choose which parts of their legacies live on by honoring those legacies, so Eddie not honoring his father’s English culture along with his mother not passing it on to him, will end that part of the legacy. Our parents’ legacies are, of course, in their hands, but once they die, the choice of whether or not to honor and continue those legacies is ours to make, just like Eddie.
Greenblatt et. al., (Eds). (2018). The Norton Anthology of English Literature The Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Jennings, H. (2019). Units 4-8, 20th C. [Word Document]. Retrieved from pilot.wright.edu/d2l/le/content/507860/viewContent/2741935/View?ou=507860.