"Slavery is a business. Christianity is a faith. Slavery answers to our physical and material well-being; Christianity looks after the hunger of the soul. The two kinds are different types of sustenance for two different kinds of need. One is exterior, the other, interior. One is tangible, the other intangible."
In this passage, taken from the chapter comprising editorials published in The Virginian, the anonymous slave-owning writer attempts to justify the hypocrisy of owning another human being while simultaneously considering himself a devoted Christian. The writer presents an arbitrary division between the ethics of the soul and the ethics of business in order to dismiss the ideas that slaves have souls in the way white Christians do. Having made the division, the editorial writer outlines the need for spreading Christianity to slave populations but to never forget "how Africans live in their primitive land." The passage is significant because it exposes how slave owners pushed forward flimsy and horrific arguments to continue the slave trade, seeking hypocritical justifications that would see them continue to profit from others' lives.
"Africans may be our inferiors, but they exhibit the same qualities we possess, even if they are merely imitating us."
In this passage, Mr. Whitechapel is reprimanding Sanders Junior for whipping Chapel to death and generally for being too violent with the slaves. This sentence is significant because it reveals the strange, hypocritical mix of feelings Mr. Whitechapel has toward his slaves. He can convince himself that he is a good Christian for treating his slaves with leniency, but he nonetheless considers slaves to be inferior to white people. The irony of his statement is that he admits to being able to perceive slaves' emotions and humanity while dismissing their status as equally human by casually stating that they are merely imitating white people as opposed to spontaneously generating emotions.
"Chapel speaking, not from memory but lifting words from a book with his eyes. My Chapel."
In this passage, Cook discovers her son reading aloud to Lydia. While Cook knows slaves are not allowed to be literate, she cannot punish her son because of the extreme pride she feels. D'Aguiar conveys Cook's stunned impression of what her son is capable of by describing the act of reading as "lifting words from a book with his eyes," as if Chapel is capable of magic.
"Cook baked. The house was perfumed with the smell of baking all evening. Only Caroline baked like that."
During the chapter comprising Sanders Senior's diary entries, D'Aguiar establishes the overseer's escalating attraction to Cook as he mourns the loss of his wife. In this passage, the scent of baking wields its mysterious and deep connection to memory by reminding Sanders Senior of his wife. As the reader already knows Sanders Senior will eventually rape Cook, this apparently simple statement in his diary presents an instance of dramatic irony, as the reader understands that the more Sanders conflates Cook and his wife, the closer he comes to assaulting her.
"Cook said the days were getting short and short days were a blessing. ... She said there was a special place to sit and look at the heavens. If I go there and another person is there in that dark, she said I should not be afraid because he is there for the same specific purpose."
In this passage, Lydia recounts how she began sneaking out of the house at night to meet Chapel on a bench. Without saying so directly, Cook uses cryptic language to explain to Lydia that she may go meet Cook under the guise of going out to look at the stars. The passage is significant because it conveys how Cook develops a means of defying her master by arranging for her son to meet with the master's daughter.
"We treat our slaves with a firm hand, we're severe in the hope that other slaves will behave well out of fear."
After Chapel's murder by lashing, Mr. Whitechapel goes to the plantation owners' club to face his fellow slave owners' mockery for preaching leniency while allowing one of his overseers to brutally kill a slave. The chapter descends into unattributed dialogue lines from different slave owners stating their views about the treatment of slaves. In this passage, one slave owner outlines the brutal and widespread rationale that physical punishment will discourage other slaves from acting out.
"Chapel, I wish you were white or I black."
After Lydia's parents introduce her to a stream of suitors, she flings herself on her bed in exhaustion and cries into her pillow. She addresses Chapel in her thoughts, expressing her frustration at the unfairness of them not being allowed to see each other or ever be a couple because of laws in the South against white women being with black men. In this passage, she ends her internal monologue by wishing one of them were the other's race. The passage is significant because it reveals how little Chapel's racial identity or her own means to her; she would gladly be black or have Chapel be white if it meant they could be together.
"Chapel, you will write verses and make our lives and the lives of our children rich."
As Lydia and Chapel plot their escape to the North, they get lost in dreaming about a future in which they will get live freely together and have children. Chapel says he plans to write verses for a living; in this passage, Lydia confirms her belief that he will make their and their children's lives rich. The hope and excitement of her words is undermined in the reader's mind by the knowledge that Chapel will not escape. In this way, D'Aguiar uses dramatic irony to evoke pathos for Lydia and Chapel and their doomed romantic ambitions.
"An astonishing thing has happened that forces me to think of changing the policy of this paper. I'd assumed that these humble pages were read by educated white Virginians alone. It transpires that there are literate slaves in our midst who read this paper to themselves and aloud to slaves who cannot read."
In a Virginian editorial, the editorial writer opens with the shocking news that slaves have been reading his column. Because of the practice of disallowing slaves from reading, the writer had assumed only slave owners and other wealthy white Virginians read the paper. Having received a letter from a literate slave, the writer opens to his readers the idea that perhaps slaves' accounts should be included in the paper. However, the next week's column dashes the idea as ludicrous, as the writer says most people wrote in to say they didn't want the paper's policy about publishing slave accounts to change. This passage is significant because it illustrates how power dynamics between the wealthy white Virginians and slaves were kept in place through policies and attitudes that enforced double standards on arbitrary grounds.
"There is no sight more perfidious than that of a white woman with a black man. ... There is so much wrong with it and it is so far from us here that I should not grace the idea with any further discussion."
In one of the last editorials in The Virginian, the editorial writer mentions being appalled by the sight of black men walking with white women in New York. In this passage, he reveals the lack of foundation to his prejudice by alluding to there being "so much wrong with it" but refusing to justify his disgust at seeing an interracial couple. The editorial proceeds with a discussion of the potential offspring of an interracial couple, stating that the child wouldn't belong either to white society or black society. In this way, the editorial writer reveals that the only threat he can articulate is that race-mixing would contribute to the obfuscation of arbitrary and culturally constructed racial categories.
The Longest Memory Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Longest Memory is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.