The Theme of Values and Cultural Identity in the Day They Burned the Books

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The Theme of Values And Cultural Identity in The Day They Burned the Books

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Cultural Identity of Characters in The Day They Burned the Books
  • Symbolism in the Short Story
  • The Day They Burned the Books: Losing Culture
  • Conclusion


This is a first person perspective of story written by Jean Rhys. This story shows issues with cultural identity which the writer herself experienced. Her father was Welsh and her mother was Creole. She lived in Great Britain in age sixteen and later moved to Paris after she married a French-Dutch songwriter named William Johan Marie Lenglet.

Cultural Identity of Characters in The Day They Burned the Books

The two main characters in this story are Eddie and the narrator. They both had different cultural background but were together due to their English background. They were confused in finding out their culture, whether they were English as they had English roots or they were Caribbean as they were raised there. Father of Eddie; Mr. Sawyer was an educated British man who loved books, while his mother; Mrs. Sawyer was from Caribbean culture and detested books. Eddie’s father and mother didn’t get along properly due to different culture. Mr. Sawyer used to verbally torture Mrs. Sawyer by telling stuffs like, “You damned, long eyed, gloomy half caste” and also “look at the nigger showing off.” He also physically tortured by pulling her hair but she didn’t mind at all and seem to not care which was false. Violence due to thought of superiority is clearly shown here which I think the author too faced in her life.

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Symbolism in the Short Story

Mr. Sawyer was all about his books collection and had very minimal relationships between his son and his wife. While reading the text, I found out that their son Eddie was towards his mother’s culture. But later Mr. Sawyer died. This was the opportunity for Mrs. Sawyer to burn the books which symbolized western culture and not letting her son be like his father. She had built up hatred towards the western culture that burning the books would rest her soul. She wanted to burn some books for her satisfaction and revenge towards her husband with the abuse she had been through.

The Day They Burned the Books: Losing Culture

Eddie had a mixed opinion. He didn’t want his father’s culture to be lost and also didn’t want them inside him. Eddie and narrator decided to interrupt what Mrs. Sawyer was doing and save some books. I think at this point, Eddie was inclining towards his father culture. They decided to go against Mrs. Sawyer’s will and each of them took a book from her pile and keep for themselves. But even with the attempt of preserving the books, Eddie took a book which started from page 20 and the book the narrator took was in French which was named “Fort Comme La Mort” which translated to “Strong as Death”. I felt sad that their attempt to save the books had to be ended like this.


I learnt that even if someone tries to influence their culture to other cultures, the other culture won’t accept it and try eradicating it from that area. This story gives us the lesson of self-acceptance. This story should relate to most of the struggles faced in cultural identity. Abuse and violence is seen in this story which also relates to war being in our world. This story is good as it addresses what a person feels with the struggles of cultural identity.

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