In the days of the British Empire, there were a multitude of distinctions between people. There were the distinctions between the colonizers and the colonized, often racial and class distinctions. This was the big one, of course. But there was also the distinction between the “true” English, and the English whose families had lived in one of the colony’s for some time. Both of these distinctions are discussed in Jean Rhys’ The Day They Burned the Books. What is especially interesting to me is the crossover of the two, which Rhys explores. The narrator of the story is a white English girl who is teased for not being truly English, but a colonial instead. The other main character, Eddie, is a mixed-race boy, the son of an English father and a Caribbean mother. This racial and cultural hybridity is at the focus of the story, as we see the ways in which the two characters are treated because of their differences.
The narrator of the piece is treated as different purely because she is considered to be not truly English, because she was raised in the colony. Even though she is white, the other white children look down on her. In a way, it is a class distinction, even though she and the other children are likely close to being the same class. On the other hand, Eddie is looked down on because of both his race and his status as “colonial.” His mother is a Caribbean native and his father is an English man who talks about his home all the time. Both children are teased by the other’s for not knowing what England looks like. This causes Eddie to hate everything about England, including daffodils, flowers that were prominent in English poetry of the time.
What is especially interesting about this story is how connected Jean Rhys is to the story. She grew up on Dominica and was the daughter of an English father and Creole mother. She was even given the nickname of the ‘white cockroach’ while growing up. Knowing this you can definitely see how she was influenced by her own childhood in a colony for this story. It’s always so interesting to me to see the ways that the author has placed them self into the story.