The Longest Memory

The Longest Memory Summary and Analysis of Mr. Whitechapel – Cook


In a first-person, present-tense monologue, Mr. Whitechapel says he leaves the plantation for a day and a night and returns to chaos. He says the overseer is supposed to supervise, the deputy is to do as Mr. Whitechapel says, and Whitechapel has, despite his senior position, overstepped his role. Mr. Whitechapel says Whitechapel’s son brought calamity on his own head. He tells Whitechapel he is disappointed that he failed to drive any notion of freedom from his son’s head, as he had promised Mr. Whitechapel. Mr. Whitechapel tells Whitechapel to leave the room and then scolds the overseer and deputy further. He tells Sanders that Sanders must repay him every last cent of Whitechapel’s son’s value and that if their fathers hadn’t worked together, he would fire Sanders. He says Whitechapel deserved better than to see his son die and that Sanders should have listened to him. Mr. Whitechapel says Sanders should have known that he wouldn’t have approved of a public beating. Mr. Whitechapel says he believes rough handling provides rough responses. Mr. Whitechapel says that even though Africans are inferior, they exhibit the same qualities white people possess, even if they are merely imitating them.

Mr. Whitechapel tells Sanders that Sanders’ father raped Whitechapel’s wife and Whitechapel stayed with her, raising the boy as his own son, telling him nothing of the forced conception. Mr. Whitechapel tells Sanders that he thought he knew this; it might have stopped Sanders from whipping his own half-brother to death. Mr. Whitechapel says Sanders should have known—his father was supposed to tell him. Mr. Whitechapel’s orders to hold Whitechapel’s son until his return were issued in light of the exceptional circumstances, because Whitechapel’s son was no ordinary runaway. The chapter ends with Mr. Whitechapel saying they must not allow the slave trade to turn them into savages; they are Christians. He asks the men to join him in a prayer to ask for God’s guidance and strength.

The narration shifts to Sanders’ father’s diary entries, which begin January 12, 1796, with a short update approximately every week. Sanders Senior’s dead wife visits him in a dream and gives him permission to marry again. His son asks how his mother died, but Sanders Senior says her memory is too sacred to discuss her death. Sanders Senior has been lonely in the five years since she died. He sees his wife’s look in his son occasionally. Sanders Senior notes that Whitechapel is by far the best worker and he also knows what it is to lose a wife. Sanders Senior wakes with his wife’s name—Caroline—on his lips. Mr. Whitechapel tells Sanders Senior he is being too severe with the slaves. Sanders Senior tells his son his mother is in heaven. Mr. Whitechapel inspects the plantation and says the slaves look too thin; he orders extra rations and an afternoon break. Sanders Senior believes he is wrong, and that cattle need fattening, not slaves.

Two older women slaves die from fever; Sanders Senior suspects the overfeeding did it. Sanders Senior and Mr. Whitechapel make plans to buy a fifteen-year-old girl on market day. Sanders Senior holds Caroline in his dreams; he feels worse in the morning than if he’d drunk a barrel of beer. Sanders Senior tells his son that they are different from slaves in intelligence and human standing before God; his son asks why then can Whitechapel tie knots Sanders Senior can’t. When Sanders Senior’s old cook is ill, the new girl, who Sanders Senior suspects is twenty-two, not fifteen, makes a better meal than Sanders Senior’s old cook ever made. Sanders Senior thinks he might “trade in [his] old model for this new one.” Sanders Senior wonders if he is wrong to look at the girl and feel like a man for the first time in five years. Sanders Senior tells her she is to leave the fields and work in his house, caring for his son and cooking. Sanders Senior is amused to see Whitechapel becoming friendly with the new girl; Whitechapel already has twelve daughters.

Mr. Whitechapel sees Sanders Senior beat a slave for indolence and tells him to use restraint, never using his feet and fists but only a whip or stick. Sanders Senior’s son turns six: it is also the anniversary of Caroline’s death. Sanders Senior believes the cook is definitely a woman of at least twenty-two. Whitechapel asks Mr. Whitechapel if he can marry the cook; Sanders Senior gets angry, thinking she’ll soon be pregnant and not as useful to his household. Mr. Whitechapel grants permission, and Sanders Senior questions why Whitechapel needs another wife when he could use one of his own daughters “for comfort.” Sanders Senior writes that he must stop noticing the cook when she crosses the room; he suspects she notices him noticing. Sanders Senior dreams he is the only man in a crowd of women; he has his way with all of them, including the cook. Sanders Senior postpones Whitechapel’s wedding until he finds another cook. Sanders Senior and Mr. Whitechapel go to the slave market, where they find only women lying about their ages to pass as girls. Mr. Whitechapel says on the ride back that the clamor of the Abolitionists is reaching new heights.

Sanders Senior invites the cook into his bedroom under false pretenses that there are dishes to be removed; she rushes in and out before he can rise from his chair. Sanders Senior slaps the cook for answering his son’s questions. He holds her and pushes her away when he feels his loins swelling. On Christmas Eve Sanders Senior grabs the cook’s arm, covers her mouth, and drags her to his bed, threatening her with death if she makes any noise. Sanders Senior rapes her and climaxes almost immediately. Sanders Senior says she can have anything she wants from his wife’s closet for her silence. She asks to be allowed to marry Whitechapel right away, and threatens otherwise to tell Whitechapel, who would kill Sanders Senior and then himself. Whitechapel marries the cook on January 1. The cook asks to return to the fields but Sanders Senior refuses.

On January 9 Sanders Senior rapes her again; she bites his hand and he chokes her until she nearly faints. She cries and remains statue-still for the duration. He promises it won’t happen again. The next morning Sanders Senior is woken by Whitechapel, the cook, and Mr. Whitechapel, who says Sanders Senior must apologize to the cook and to Whitechapel; he must also find a new cook—a male. Later Whitechapel learns that she was not a virgin before their wedding and wants to give her up as his wife; Mr. Whitechapel persuades him to wait before making such a decision. In February, Cook misses her period; Sanders Senior hopes Whitechapel impregnated her. Mr. Whitechapel doubles Sanders Senior’s fine because of the pregnancy. Whitechapel says he will love his wife whatever the outcome. Mr. Whitechapel swears everyone to secrecy. Sanders Senior returns to the subject of how his wife died, and can still not bring himself to tell his son. Cook’s belly swells; Sanders Senior hopes the child is dark like its mother.

Sanders Senior is frustrated when the slaves complain about the cold and wet conditions they live in. A slave runs away. Mr. Whitechapel revokes the slaves’ privileges and places a notice in The Virginian with a description and a reward. The runaway returns on May 27, having failed to meet up with other runaways who were supposed to head North. Sanders Senior and his second in command lash the runaway two hundred times. Mr. Whitechapel makes a speech saying he’ll restore privileges in return for the slaves’ loyalty. In August, Sanders Senior tells his son the boy’s mother died during childbirth.

Cook gives birth to a son; Sanders Senior thinks it resembles Sanders Junior in everything but color. Mr. Whitechapel pressures Sanders Senior to learn to like the woman he has found for him, and who Sanders Senior isn’t attracted to. Mr. Whitechapel says he must marry within the month if he is to stay on the plantation; otherwise the rumors about Sanders Senior and Cook will get worse. Sanders Senior marries but is unhappy about it. None of Caroline’s clothes fit her. He goes to bed early, rises early, and throws himself into work.

The narration switches to Cook’s first-person voice. She wanted to die after Sanders Senior laid his hands on her, and planned to escape and throw herself into the rushing river. Whitechapel saved her; any other man would have thrown her away. She says Whitechapel is no ordinary man: he got Sanders Senior fined and married so he wouldn’t rape her again. At first, she had shunned Whitechapel’s advances, but now he proves his love every day by treating her first-born as his own. They have agreed never to speak about Sanders Senior. He has kept his every promise to her. Cook vows to bear Whitechapel many sons. And after he dies, she will grow old with her sons, happy to have met her Whitechapel.


With the second chapter, D’Aguiar establishes the motif of shifting the narration to another character’s first-person voice. Through the spoken monologue of Mr. Whitechapel, the plantation owner, D’Aguiar shows the aftermath of Chapel’s killing from a perspective that silences Whitechapel. Standing in what is presumably Mr. Whitechapel’s office, Whitechapel, Sanders Junior, and the deputy manager are reprimanded and disciplined for Chapel’s death.

The scene is revealing about Mr. Whitechapel, because even though he sent out the search party and was away when Chapel was caught, he assumes no personal responsibility for Chapel’s death, choosing instead to blame his senior employees. The monologue conveys Mr. Whitechapel’s ironic need to think of himself as a benevolent slave owner. Because he would like to think of himself as a good Christian, Mr. Whitechapel espouses leniency toward slaves and disagrees with Sanders’ desire to threaten the slaves with violence.

His benevolence does not go so far as to grant his slaves full humanity, however: Mr. Whitechapel believes that the emotions slaves show are not the result of genuine feeling but of an ability to emulate the emotions of their white masters. The irony continues when Mr. Whitechapel reveals to Sanders that Chapel was his half-brother, the offspring that resulted from Sanders Senior’s rape of Chapel’s mother. To cap off his irony-laden monologue, Mr. Whitechapel asks his employees to pray with him—an act as sinister as it is hypocritical.

Continuing with the non-chronological plotting of the book and the motif of shifting voices, D’Aguiar moves next to Sanders Senior’s diary entries, which detail the events that lead to and follow Chapel’s “forced conception.” The diaries also fill in the perspective of a plantation overseer—the white man employed to discipline and manage the slaves who work the fields and perform domestic labor in the master’s house. Like his son, Sanders prefers to run the plantation with the threat of violence always in the air.

In the privacy of his diary, Sanders Senior’s contempt for the slaves is on full display. However, he takes a sexual interest in Cook, who he convinces himself must be lying about her age and is actually an adult, not a fifteen-year-old girl. As the reader already knows what is coming, D’Aguiar draws out the uncomfortable tension of that dramatic irony. Sanders Senior moves from admonishing himself for noticing Cook’s body to welcoming fantasies about her and getting closer to taking action on his violent lust.

In Cook’s voice, the reader learns how Whitechapel was able to arrange for Sanders Senior to be punished by Mr. Whitechapel as a favor to Whitechapel, whom Mr. Whitechapel respects for his long-standing obedience and value to the plantation as a senior slave who teaches obedience to younger slaves. Cook is impressed by Whitechapel’s relative power as a slave, and she is relieved that he pledges his allegiance despite her not being a virgin on their wedding night.