The Longest Memory

by

Fred D’Aguiar

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Longest Memory can help.

The Longest Memory: Chapter 2: Mr. Whitechapel Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back on the plantation the next day, Mr. Whitechapel launches in a long monologue to Sanders Junior, the deputy, and Whitechapel, accusing all of them of behaving foolishly and causing Chapel’s brutal death. The master claims the boy’s escape was Whitechapel’s own fault, since he was not able to protect his son from ludicrous ideas about liberty. Mr. Whitechapel accuses Whitechapel of betraying his trust. He adds that he is glad his wife and daughter (later revealed as Lydia) were not present to witness such a chaotic situation.
Mr. Whitechapel’s blame of Whitechapel for what has happened is hypocritical and offensive. Not only does he claim that liberty is not a valid aspiration for slaves, who are born to be subjugated, but he also concludes that this episode—over which Whitechapel had barely any control—is sufficient to undermine an entire lifetime of trust between Whitechapel and his master. Mr. Whitechapel’s concern for his own family’s feelings, instead of for Chapel’s life or Whitechapel’s feelings, shows how selfish and uncaring he is.
Themes
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Angry at what has happened, Mr. Whitechapel wonders if he should sell all the slaves on his plantation, because he doesn’t know how to manage such a high level of discontent among his slaves. He recalls how the other plantation owners mocked his ideas about managing slaves through mutual respect, and wonders if they might be right in mocking him. Ultimately, he decides that Chapel’s punishment was right even though it happened in a disorderly fashion.
Mr. Whitechapel’s anger shows how seemingly fragile his beliefs in slaves’ dignity are, since he shifts so easily from a philosophy of mutual respect to the belief that he should punish all his slaves for expressing dissatisfaction with their situation in life. As his confessions to Sanders Junior later reveal, these words do not necessarily reflect his intimate thoughts, but are simply meant to arouse fear and shame in Whitechapel. In this way, Mr. Whitechapel hopes to regain control over the situation and reassert his dominance.
Themes
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Punishment and Cruelty Theme Icon
Mr. Whitechapel tells Whitechapel to leave, orders him to calm his fellow slaves down, and tells him that it is only his seniority that has kept him from being punished for his behavior toward Sanders Junior. He tells Whitechapel to apologize to him, which Whitechapel seemingly does.
Whitechapel, who initially believed that Sanders Junior would have to apologize to him, is forced to apologize to the overseer who hit him and then killed his son. This scene is meant to humiliate and subdue Whitechapel, so that he remembers to obey his superiors at all times.
Themes
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Punishment and Cruelty Theme Icon
Once Whitechapel is gone, Mr. Whitechapel tells his two employees he is not actually worried about Whitechapel but, instead, about them. He scolds the deputy for leaving the plantation and angrily demands an explanation. Mr. Whitechapel also tells Sanders Junior that, because of the overseer’s behavior, he could have very well returned from his trip to find his entire estate burned down, given the amount of discontent among the slaves. Mr. Whitechapel decides to fine Sanders Junior for his disobedience instead of firing him, because both of their fathers used to work together. However, he reprimands him severely for daring to overlook his orders and defy authority.
Mr. Whitechapel’s words seem to negate what he has just told Whitechapel, as he actually places the blame for what has happened on his two white employees. This suggests that Mr. Whitechapel’s threats might not have been sincere, but merely meant to scare his slave and display authority. However, it also shows Mr. Whitechapel’s lack of integrity, as he does not mind berating and lying to his slave as long as it serves his self-interest. Clearly, sincerity matters less to Mr. Whitechapel than defending his economic interests and his authority over everyone on the plantation.
Themes
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Punishment and Cruelty Theme Icon
Get the entire The Longest Memory LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Longest Memory PDF
Mr. Whitechapel also scolds Sanders Junior for hitting Whitechapel and whipping Chapel to death in front of him, invoking Whitechapel’s honorable behavior and long, serious work for both them and their fathers. Mr. Whitechapel is furious at such a display of brutality, arguing that slaves’ already difficult conditions should not be worsened by unnecessary violence. Contradicting what he said to Whitechapel earlier, Mr. Whitechapel notes that he does not call his previously mentioned acquaintances “friends” but, rather, criticizes these other plantation owners for being too brutal and thus breeding rebellion on their plantations, which only generates more violence. He believes that, despite Africans’ inferiority, which predisposes them to slavery, they should be treated as “subjects of God” so that they do not rebel against their master.
It remains ambiguous whether Mr. Whitechapel’s distaste for violence derives from his respect for slaves’ dignity, his Christian faith, or from mere calculation (based on the potential for violence to encourage slave revolts). Either way, his belief in slaves’ inferiority means that he can never be trusted to protect true justice on the plantation, since he does not believe slaves deserving of full respect, independence, and self-determination. Instead, he believes that justice and fairness involve protecting slaves only insofar as they accept to remain subservient to his authority.
Themes
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Punishment and Cruelty Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Mr. Whitechapel trusts that they will all have to work hard to make their slaves obedient again, invoking a mysterious episode between Whitechapel and Sanders Senior as proof that Whitechapel’s patience and obedience have been well tested and tried in the past. Mr. Whitechapel ultimately reveals that Sanders Senior raped Whitechapel’s virgin wife (Cook), and she became pregnant, but that Whitechapel accepted the illegitimate child (Chapel) as his own. Seeing Sanders Junior’s shock, Mr. Whitechapel realizes with surprise that the man did not know this.
Throughout this chapter, neither Chapel nor Cook are ever directly named. Rather, Mr. Whitechapel refers to them as “his son” and “his wife,” which suggests that he is less interested in their individual identities than in their relation to Whitechapel—in other words, in their position in the plantation hierarchy. The mention of Cook’s rape suggests that life on the plantation is potentially more brutal than Mr. Whitechapel intends, as all slaves are subject to the violent whims of the people who have authority over them.
Themes
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon
Mr. Whitechapel adds that Whitechapel could have used this fact to keep Sanders Junior from whipping his own half-brother (Chapel) to death, but that Whitechapel probably assumed Sanders did not care. The master explains that the only reason he gave orders to spare Chapel was because of his special status as Sanders Senior’s son. Otherwise, he would have let his overseer handle the situation as he saw fit. Finishing his speech, Mr. Whitechapel ultimately invites everyone to pray, concluding that they must not let slavery turn them into “savages,” and decides to ask God for advice.
Given Mr. Whitechapel’s previously twofaced interaction with Whitechapel, it remains uncertain whether his words are to be trusted when he speaks publicly. However, his admission that he only cared about Chapel because the boy was Sanders Senior’s biological son reveals Mr. Whitechapel’s lack of concern for his slaves’ lives, whom he respects only if they demonstrate absolute deference to him. His final only prayer highlights his hypocrisy, as the master believes that he is a kind and fair Christian man, when in reality he treats slaves as less-than-human, disposable commodities.
Themes
Punishment and Cruelty Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon