Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Why are the books so important to the narrator?

I just need a general understanding as to why the narrator is so desperate to have books.

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On Page 57, we learn that after acquiring Balzac's novel from Four Eyes, the narrator found as "awakening desire, passion, impulsive action, love, all the subjects that had, until then, been hidden." Hidden refers to the "books" they are no longer allowed to read, and once the narrator reads Balzac he thirsts for the knowledge they provide. Thus, he plans to steal the rest of Four Eyes' books which are hidden away in suitcases. The narrator finds pleasure in learning forbidden knowledge, and the seamstress wants to learn about beauty and sophistication.


Obviously, one of the novel's primary purposes is the celebration of reading, and the life experience that stories and education can impart. However, Dai also explores the equal value of practical knowledge. The main factors that differentiate Luo and the narrator from the villagers are their academic learning and their knowledge of city life. When they first arrive in the village, the boys believe themselves superior to the villagers because they know more about life away from the mountain. However, as they spend more time in the countryside they realize that the villagers have different knowledge and skills that are just as useful – if not more so – than Luo and the narrator's book learning. For example, the Seamstress devises an herbal poultice that helps cure Luo's malaria, and she later proposes the theft of the suitcase. Similarly, the tailor's beautiful sewing is just as legitimate an art form as the narrator's violin-playing is. Dai affirms literature's potential to enrich, but he also pays homage to the villagers' more practical skill sets.