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 8: Cook Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Cook describes preparing two pots every day. One of the pots is for her master, and it is full of the best things she has prepared. The other one, while less rich, is sweeter to her because it is meant for her beloved family.
Cook places greater value on personal riches, such as her family’s love, than material differences, such as receiving a higher-quality meal. In this way, she shows that family is capable of offsetting the unjust effects of even a deeply unequal system.
Themes
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon
One day, Cook calls Chapel while cooking but does not hear him answer. After walking around and listening carefully, she hears a voice that sounds like Chapel’s but is not fully his. When she walks toward the sound and listens through the door where Mr. Whitechapel keeps his books—a room Cook has never dared enter—she hears Chapel reading loud and strong, like the master’s prayers at Christmas, and has to stifle a cry of surprise.
Chapel’s metaphorical transformation, through his voice, from slave to master constitutes a subversive reversal of roles. It suggests not only that Chapel is just as intellectually capable as Mr. Whitechapel, but also that he is potentially capable of rebelling against his status as slave and, through reading, develop his intellectual freedom.
Themes
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon
Cook runs back to the kitchen and yells Chapel’s name again, this time hearing his answer in a voice she recognizes. Chapel runs toward her and hugs her, and she notices how happy he looks. When claims that he was simply daydreaming, Cook warns him against walking around the house and distracting Lydia. She does not, however, say anything about hearing him read, nor does she tell him to keep away from books. Instead, she feels a swelling of pride at knowing that her son can sound like the master. At the same time, she worries about having to talk about this with Whitechapel.
Unlike Whitechapel, who sees Chapel’s happiness as a threat to the young boy’s life, Cook understands that her son’s happiness is an important aspect of his life that must be safeguarded and nourished. She sees Chapel’s intellectual growth as a process of personal and collective transformation, as it not only influences the boy’s individual well-being but also subverts an entire system of inequality. Her decision to keep quiet about what she has discovered makes her complicit of Chapel’s rebellion, showing that she supports his endeavor.
Themes
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon
Cook tries to convince herself that what she heard is unimportant, but she cannot avoid admitting that Chapel’s action is a bold, subversive act. Ultimately, she concludes that she wants neither herself nor Whitechapel to tell their son that he cannot read. Despite loving her husband and respecting his beliefs, she resolves to keep this secret for him, because she trusts that her son’s voice when he reads is just as powerful and righteous as her husband’s voice when he tells her that slaves should obey their masters and not learn to read. She continues to cook, looking forward to her husband and son’s reactions when they will smell the delicious things she has prepared for them.
Cook’s decision to support her child demonstrates her devotion to Chapel’s growth, beyond any boundaries that slavery might erect to crush the young boy’s happiness. Unlike her husband, she understands that dignity does not only derive from protecting one’s life, but also from protecting one’s internal life, made of dreams and hopes, however unattainable they might be. Cook concludes that obedience and rebellion are two valid modes of behavior, but that everyone should be free to choose which one they want to adopt. 
Themes
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Get the entire The Longest Memory LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Longest Memory PDF