The Longest Memory

by

Fred D’Aguiar

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The Longest Memory: Chapter 7: Lydia Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Lydia describes the evolution of her relationship with Chapel. She initially treats him like a young brother, taking his hand to lead him into the reading room after seeing him watch her curiously from behind the door. For days, she waits for him to appear, smiling when she sees him spying into the room, and finally reads to him, marking his page when he has to run back to his mother, Cook.
Lydia’s detailed description of Chapel’s behavior, as well as of her own attentiveness, reveals her emerging romantic feelings for him, as she has clearly been paying attention to the young boy in a curious, affectionate way. Unlike so many others on the plantation, she does not see any reason to keep from interacting with a person who neither shares her skin color nor her social status.
Themes
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon
When Lydia sees that Chapel is eager to understand what she is reading from, she teaches him to read, enjoying watching the movements of his mouth as he pronounces words. She sits close to him and takes his finger to make it move along with the words. When Cook calls Chapel from the kitchen, Lydia tells him to keep this activity their secret.
Lydia’s attentiveness to Chapel’s movements and her desire to stay physically close to him outlines the beginning of romantic attraction between the two of them. At the same time, the necessary secrecy of their activity serves as a reminder of the deep social inequality that divides them and the danger for Chapel to be overstepping his rights as a slave.
Themes
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon
Over the course of several weeks, Chapel begins to say a few words aloud as Lydia reads, and she leaves spaces for him to say the words he knows. Both of them are excited and smile, but Lydia’s smile makes him turn away shyly so she hides it from him. They become so absorbed in their secret activity that Cook has to call her son twice before he answers.
The young people’s excitement is as much related to the experience of reading as to the feelings they share for each other, which makes them feel shy and self-conscious. However, the fact that Cook has to call Chapel twice foreshadows danger, as the two young people are clearly paying less attention to their surroundings, which might lead them to get caught.
Themes
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon
After a while, Chapel becomes capable of reading to Lydia, pausing for her as she used to pause for him. Lydia leans back and listens to the boy, feeling his voice move over her body. She closes her eyes so as not to make him lose his concentration when he reads and looks at her. One day, she suddenly realizes that she has been selfish in forgetting to teach him to write his own name. When she opens her eyes, she catches him watching her, and he looks around, worried that someone might have seen them. Lydia wants to tell him that he is the one who surprises her but keeps quiet.
Lydia realizes that their reading activity is both an intensely sensorial moment, filled with love and attraction, and a learning experience capable of giving Chapel an intellectual and spiritual freedom that he so sorely lacks. Lydia also understands that writing is not a trivial pastime but, rather, can help Chapel build his identity and, through that, gain personal power, as the idea of writing his own name suggests.
Themes
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon
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Before teaching Chapel to write, Lydia makes him swear to keep this activity secret, which he does because he is so eager to learn. She teaches him to spell his last name: “Whitechapel.” Curious about Chapel’s nickname, she asks Cook why she calls her son “Chapel.” Cook says that, otherwise, both her son and husband would answer when she calls.
The possible confusion between husband and son is humorous, given Whitechapel and Chapel’s strikingly different personalities, but also suggests a deeper link between the two men: an essential family bond that ties the father to his son, however much they might disagree on certain issues.
Themes
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon