The Longest Memory


Fred D’Aguiar

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Themes and Colors
Freedom vs. Obedience Theme Icon
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
Punishment and Cruelty Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Family Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Longest Memory, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Freedom vs. Obedience

The Longest Memory explores the horror of slavery through its dissection of life on a Virginia plantation in the early nineteenth century. Whitechapel, the oldest and most respected slave on the plantation, does not believe in his freedom, trusting instead that he should show subservience toward his master, Mr. Whitechapel, to protect his life. By contrast, Whitechapel’s son, Chapel, wants to fight for liberation. When Chapel escapes from the plantation, Whitechapel is…

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Racism and Inequality

While some characters in The Longest Memory, such as Lydia and Chapel, argue that blacks should be granted the same rights as whites, most of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Virginian society proves hostile to the concept of equality, preferring instead to believe that blacks are inherently inferior. Racism determines the nature of economic and social relations between whites and blacks. Such entrenched inequality sets a fragile foundation for the nation’s present and future, as…

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Punishment and Cruelty

Plantation owners’ management of their estate is based on an analysis of costs and benefits, meant to protect their self-interest over the well-being of their slaves. In order to govern over large groups of slaves, many masters resort to various kinds of punishment, aimed at discouraging rebellion or escape. Seemingly alone in believing in slaves’ humanity, Mr. Whitechapel argues for demonstrating kindness and respect to slaves in order to establish relationships of trust. However, Mr…

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Love, Sex, and Family

While love can blossom on Southern plantations, relationships formed in the midst of slavery are inherently fragile, threatened by the external dangers of a racist society. The taboo nature of interracial relationships keeps lovers (such as Lydia and Chapel) from being together, and the lack of consideration for black people’s lives risks tearing apart the family that Whitechapel and Cook have created. Despite these obstacles, it is precisely the possibility—however frail—of developing meaningful relationships…

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