In a mournful voice, Whitechapel, the oldest and most respected slave on Mr. Whitechapel’s plantation in Virginia, begins to speak. He explains that the future is a repetition of the past, and that he has now decided to erase his own past, so he no longer has any identity. His entire life, he concludes, now lies in his hands—not inside his consciousness or through what he sees—because he has decided to give up on thought itself, choosing to surrender his name and be nothing more than “boy, mule, nigger, slave,” whatever people might want him to be.
Whitechapel’s choice to erase his identity creates mystery and suspense. Rejecting his name and individual essence, Whitechapel now centers his entire sense of self around his status as a slave. He equates being a slave with being an animal, arguing that slaves must have no identity or humanity. His decision is thus a political act in itself, as it highlights the dehumanizing nature of slavery.
Whitechapel also rejects emotion, admitting that he is no longer able to cry because the last time he cried was after the death of a boy he considered his own (later introduced as Chapel). Ever since that last, harrowing shedding of tears, he has refused to feel such pain again. He hopes to forget the unjust whipping of this boy—a punishment that was far too severe. To this end, he works hard to forget what has happened, in order to avoid spiritual and physical pain.
In addition to carrying social criticism, Whitechapel’s pain is deeply personal, based on the experience of losing a family member. It seems that experiencing this pain for himself strengthened his understanding that slavery is a deeply unjust, destructive system.