The Longest Memory

by

Fred D’Aguiar

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The Longest Memory: Forgetting Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Whitechapel begins an imaginary conversation with his son, Chapel. He tells Chapel that, because of his biracial nature, part of him was free whereas the other one had to be a slave. He admits that he knew that Chapel was made to be free, because it was in his blood. He justifies himself for betraying his son, though, by saying that he valued Chapel’s life more than his happiness. His action still tortures him, though, and he concludes he was not a good enough father.
Like Sanders Junior, Whitechapel also seems moved by the desire to receive forgiveness for his actions. His understanding of Chapel’s personality, though, remains moved by racist conceptions, according to which blacks are made to be slaves and whites are meant to be free. Whitechapel remains blind to the idea that there is no reasonable justification for the oppression of blacks.
Themes
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Whitechapel admits that he heard Chapel call Lydia’s name in his dreams and found Chapel’s sexual desire healthy, but realizes admits there is a lot he didn’t know about Chapel’s dreams and desires. He wonders if he should have told him about the two races in his blood and prepared him for another life, but feels lost when he realizes that he only knows life as a slave on a plantation. When he revealed his son’s whereabouts to Mr. Whitechapel, Whitechapel wondered at the time if he was doing something wrong—a fear that came true, since his attempts to protect his son ultimately proved futile.
Whitechapel realizes that his own lack of imagination explains his inability to empathize with Chapel’s desire to be free and to dream of a world not governed by racial divisions. Whitechapel has thus confused the habit of living on the plantation with what he considers a moral obligation to preserve that way of life. Whitechapel’s fear of the unknown has led him to approve of slavery as a normal, acceptable way of life.
Themes
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon
Whitechapel concludes that he has been wrong all his life, and that he would need several lives to make things right, though he does not even know if he could figure out how. He wonders how long slavery will exist, and whether masters will always be able to rule over their slaves. He feels exhausted and finds himself unable to see or speak, soon feeling the presence of death in his body. He concludes that he wants to rest and forget, arguing that memory is merely the survival of pain.
Whitechapel realizes that his philosophy of obedience to slavery has backfired against him, and that slavery is an inherently unjust, oppressive system. In light of Chapel’s attempt to run away, he begins to think that slavery might be unsustainable, since many slaves will probably never abandon their deep desire for freedom.
Themes
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon