Lydia recounts the day her father, Mr. Whitechapel, caught her reading with Chapel. She describes the feeling of falling in love with Chapel, as she no longer listens to the words he says but focuses only on his voice. When her father enters the room, the children jump up in surprise. Mr. Whitechapel orders Lydia out of the room, and Lydia feels scared for herself but more so for Chapel. She knows that she is in love with a slave who is three years younger than her, and that it is her fault if Chapel is in trouble.
Lydia and Whitechapel are finally punished for disobeying not only the master, but the entire system of racism and slavery, according to which whites and blacks should not socialize, nor should slaves be given the freedom to educate themselves. Lydia realizes that her personal life, in which she has fallen in love with Chapel, has led her to go against the grain of society’s precepts.
Mr. Whitechapel reprimands Lydia for teaching Chapel to read, telling her that she has committed an injustice since Chapel will never be able to use these skills. Lydia wants to reply that the true injustice is the prohibition for slaves to be literate, but she stays quiet. After forbidding her to see Chapel again, Mr. Whitechapel surprisingly notes that slave literacy might be possible some time in the future. Excited by this prospect, Lydia imagines herself freely reading with Chapel, but her father then adds that it would not happen before the next century, thus crushing Lydia’s hopes for the present. She concludes that she needs to learn to live in this present, unfair world instead of dreaming of an improbable future.
Mr. Whitechapel’s blindness to injustice is striking, as he does not realize that he is responsible for sustaining slavery and thus creating the kind of context in which Chapel cannot put his literacy skills to use—a situation he himself defines as unjust. Similarly, his suggestion that slave literacy might be possible in the future suggests that he is not opposed to it on principle—and, therefore, that slave literacy might be fair. However, once again, he fails to realize that he is responsible for perpetuating injustice.
One day, when Lydia is dreaming of Chapel, Cook enters the reading room and gives the young girl a cryptic message about someone waiting for her at night, in the dark, under stars that flicker when she looks at them. Lydia understands that Cook is telling her that she can meet Chapel secretly at night. After her parents go to bed, the young girl walks out and reaches an old shed, where she believes she is alone. However, she leans back and touches a body that asks her if she truly believes that stars flicker. She recognizes Chapel’s shaky voice.
The two young people’s efforts to see each other, with Cook’s help, shows that their love is greater than their fear of punishment. Their story follows a similar pattern as that of other classical, tragic tales of love in the midst of oppression or violence. In this way, it shows that neither racism nor slavery is capable of destroying the human instinct to love and connect across boundaries of race or class.
Lydia asks Chapel what he would wish for if he saw a shooting star, but he refuses to reveal his thought, explaining that Whitechapel has told him that a wish will not come true if it is revealed to someone who is a part of it. Lydia notes that Whitechapel is right, and Chapel proudly says that his father is always right, which makes Lydia feel that he is prouder of his father than she is of hers.
Lydia’s feeling that Chapel is prouder of his father than she is of hers suggests that a family’s happiness and fulfillment has nothing to do with social class. It also shows that Chapel’s disapproval of his father’s ideas about freedom diminishes neither his love nor their father-son bond.
The two of them agree to meet on clear nights and, to avoid disobeying Mr. Whitechapel, Chapel says that he will compose lines in his mind, which Lydia can write down later, while she should memorize lines for him. Lydia has tears in her eyes as she thinks of everything she wants to memorize for Chapel.
Chapel and Lydia’s relationship, based on mutual sharing and growth, shows that people are able to create loving, equal relationships even in the most oppressive societies, thus engaging in private acts of rebellion that challenge the status quo.
Finally, the two of them part after telling each other they love each other. Chapel tells Lydia not to turn around, so that he will not disobey Mr. Whitechapel, who has told him never to see her again. For the next months, the two of them meet on clear nights. Sometimes, when Lydia leaves the house when it is pitch dark and Chapel has not come out, she still imagines that she can smell Chapel and thinks to herself that he must have been there a few minutes earlier.
Despite his belief that he should not be forced to be a slave and obey a master, Chapel surprisingly decides to respect Mr. Whitechapel’s order about not seeing Lydia. He does so not because he accepts to defer to authority, but because he has given Mr. Whitechapel his word, and wants to respect it out of a sense of honor.