The Longest Memory

by

Fred D’Aguiar

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Paradise Symbol Analysis

Paradise Symbol Icon

In The Longest Memory, the notion of paradise represents the deep divisions that exist between the old slave Whitechapel’s views about death and other slaves’ hope in freedom. While many slaves—including Whitechapel’s son, Chapel—yearn to be free and believe that they might reach paradise on earth by running away, Whitechapel crushes their hopes by claiming that the only paradise that exists is the one that people go to after death (heaven). In this way, Whitechapel suggests that freedom is merely an illusion, an attractive dream that will never come to fruition. His pessimism leads him to reject rebellion and to embrace obedience until it is too late—that is, until his very own son dies, reaching the “premature paradise” Whitechapel wanted to save Chapel from. Paradoxically, through trying to keep his son from believing in fantasies of liberty, Whitechapel discovers that his own trust in obedience is also a fantasy, as it fails to protect his family. The concept of paradise thus highlights Whitechapel’s shift from his focus on physical preservation to his understanding that idealism and optimism are also important in life, as they are potentially capable of maintaining slaves’ humanity, sense of agency, and hope in the future.

Paradise Quotes in The Longest Memory

The The Longest Memory quotes below all refer to the symbol of Paradise. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Longest Memory published in 2017.
Chapter 1: Whitechapel Quotes

There are two types of slave: the slave who must experience everything for himself before coming to an understanding of anything and he who learns through observation. The slave in the first category behaves as if he is the only slave in the world and is visited by the worst luck on earth. That type of slave is agitated, brings much trouble on his head and he makes the lot of every slave ten times worse. It is generally accepted that the slave in the second category is brighter, lives longer, causes everyone around him a minimum of worries and earns the small kindness of the overseer and the master.

Related Characters: Whitechapel (speaker)
Related Symbols: Paradise
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Protector of the worst fate of your people or any people. Is that what I have become? The master of my fate. No longer in need of control or supervision. One so accustomed to his existence that he impinges on his own freedom and can be left to his own devices. A master of his own slavery. Slave and enslaver. Model slave. Self-governing slave. Thinks freedom is death. Thinks paradise is the afterlife.

Related Characters: Whitechapel (speaker), Chapel
Related Symbols: Paradise
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12: Great Granddaughter Quotes

He never talked about Africa. It was his view, I found out later, that such talk promoted day dreams and insolence on the plantation. He said Africa was his past and not ours. If anyone had the right to dream about it, he did and he chose not to, so why should anyone else.

Related Characters: Whitechapel’s Great-Granddaughter (speaker), Whitechapel
Related Symbols: Paradise
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:
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Paradise Symbol Timeline in The Longest Memory

The timeline below shows where the symbol Paradise appears in The Longest Memory. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Whitechapel
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Punishment and Cruelty Theme Icon
...deter him from running away again. Whitechapel criticizes slaves’ belief that successful runaways go to paradise, arguing instead that the only paradise they go to exists in death, since the likelihood... (full context)
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Punishment and Cruelty Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon
...dies, the couple’s son runs away. To keep his son from joining his mother in paradise—more specifically, to keep the search party from killing him—Whitechapel knows he has to do something. (full context)
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Punishment and Cruelty Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon
...Whitechapel only says a few vague words about his son’s search for a place called paradise on earth. Exasperated, Mr. Whitechapel reprimands his slave by calling him directly by his name,... (full context)
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Punishment and Cruelty Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon
...himself and his family, trusting that there can be no freedom in life and that paradise only exists in death. Realizing he has outlived all his loved ones and cannot even... (full context)