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The Longest Memory

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Danny F.

on 25 March 2015

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Transcript of The Longest Memory

The Longest Memory
presented by Andreas, Antonia, Christine, Daphne, Denis and Sarah

The novel

Characters and stylistic devices

Secondary literature


Secondary literature
Characters and stylistic devices
Christine Chifane:
Psychological and psychoanalytical interpretation

Follows the novels character's attempts of retrieving repressed memories

Whitechapel's memory reflects the complexity of the collective memory about slavery

The pain caused by his traumatic memory about his son's death causes repression of his memory

Results in loss of his name and identity

"What was I before? I forget.

Did I smile? Laugh out loud?

Don't recall." (D'Aguiar, 7)
Repression as a defense mechanism

Whitechapel's memory too painful to be reconstructed by himself

Tragic story is told through the perspectives of the other characters

Highlights relativism of individual truth

Reasons of the tragic outcome lie in the past

Slavery imposed forgetting about the circumstances of Chapel's birth to keep things "in order"

In the end, Whitechapel has to face his guiltiness and the truth about Chapel's birth is revealed

Repressed memories inevitably resurface
Benedict Ledent:
Slavery has always been a major concern for Caribbean writers

Recent shift in focus when writing about slavery

Older Generation: psychological aspects or historical events preceding it

New Generation: "The material conditions of plantation life or the slavery system proper" (Ledent, 271)

Slavery in the new world was a paradigm for 'The Longest Memory'

D'Aguiar explores new cultural and literary affiliations

The setting links D'Aguiar to his cultural origin but also shows his "post migratory or displaced Caribbeaness" (272)
'The Longest Memory' not concerned with portraying slavery historically accurate

More about the dilemma of trying to forget slavery and the impossibility of doing so

"Memory is pain trying to resurrect itself" (LM, 138)

Mostly first-person narration alludes to classic slave narratives

: differences to the old slave narratives is key to the authenticity of the characters

Liberational status of literacy for slaves is ambiguous in the novel

D'Aguiar avoids refocusing only on the slave by employing different points of view

Results in a more complex picture of slavery

Evokes the idea of multiple truths, not one single truth

Raises issues in a post-colonial context
Zack Bowen:
South American setting shares many similarities with conditions of Caribbean slaves in the colonies

Both driven by patriarchal systems

Both supported illiteracy for slaves to inhibit thoughts of equality

Novel asks the question: "Whose is the longest memory?"

Intertextuality: allusion to Genesis - Lydia and Chapel as Adam and Eve

Chapel recreates a Renaissance Eden through works of Shakespeare, Milton, Donne and Spencer

As in Genesis, women are the violators of the patriarchal system

Lydia and Cook are also the only characters (except Chapel) brave enough to "fight" against the system

Commodification paradigm of the novel can be applied to present issues as well
All three papers have different emphases but some aspects appear in all of them

D'Aguiars novel is not strictly about slavery but also about human conditions and other issues relevant today

"The Longest Memory" evokes the notion of multiple truths, not one single truth

The complexity of slavery can only be understood by employ-ing multiple points of view
British-Guyanese poet, novelist and playwright

Born in London on February 2, 1960

Parents were Guyanese

1962-72: lived with his grandmother in Guyana

Trained and worked as a psychiatric nurse

Majored in African and Caribbean studies at University of Kent at Canterbury -> graduated in 1985

1992-94: Visiting writer at Amherst College in Amherst

1994-95: Assistant Professor at Bates College in Lewiston

Professor of English and Creative Writing at University of Miami

Since 2003: Prof. of English at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg


The Longest Memory
. London: Chatto & Windus

Dear Future
. London: Chatto & Windus

Feeding the Ghosts
. London: Chatto & Windus

. London: Chatto & Windus

Bethany Bettany
. London: Chatto & Windus

Children of Paradise
. New York: HarperCollins

Mama Dot
. London: Chatto & Windus

Airy Hall
. London: Chatto & Windus

British Subjects
. London: Bloodaxe

Bill of Rights
. London: Chatto & Windus

An English Sampler: Selected & New Poems
. London: Chatto & Windus

Continental Shelf
. Oxford: Carcanet

The Rose of Toulouse
. Oxford: Carcanet

A Jamaican Airman Foresees His Death
. London: Methuen

Days and Nights in Bedlam
. London: BBC Radio 4

Prizes and Awards:

1983: Minority Rights Group Award
1984: University of Kent T.S. Eliot Prize
1985: GLC Literature Award
1985: Malcolm X Prize for Poetry (
Mama Dot
1989: Guyana Poetry Prize (
Mama Dot
Airy Hall
1993: Commission for Racial Equality Race in the Media Award (
Sweet Thames
1994: David Higham Prize for Fiction (
The Longest Memory
1994: Whitbread First Novel Award (
The Longest Memory
1996: Guyana Prize for Literature (
Dear Future
1997: Shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (
Feeding the Ghosts
2009: T.S. Eliot Prize (Shortlist)
The novel
13 chapters; introduction "Remembering", conclusion "Forgetting" -> "The Longest Memory"

Chapter titles = character's names -> their point of view in first person narrator


Different text genres

Mostly directed at reader with few exceptions
Central character?

I-narrator of frame and first chapter

100 years old; liked, well-respected and trusted

Outlives his family

Observer of everything

Describes the 2 types of slaves
Mr Whitechapel
Plantation owner

Family: wife, two sons, one daughter

Changing relationship with Whitechapel

Fair slave holder <-> contradictive, hypocritical behavior/position towards slavery

I-narrator, personal point of view

Direct speech, direct addressee <-> blaming Sanders Junior
Sanders Senior
Diary dating from Jan 12 1796- Nov 30 97

Strict, cruel overseer; lonely

Rapist -> biological father of Chapel

Believes in slavery

Angry about the marriage of Whitechapel and Cook
Female house slave


Raped by Sanders Senior

-> Pregnancy; birth of (mulatto) child Chapel

Whitechapel marries her

I-narrator, personal point of view (inner monologue)

Torn between supporting or forbidding Chapel's and Lydia's secret meetings
Illegitimate son of Sanders S. and Cook

I-narrator, personal POV

uses poems to narrate

Becomes literate


"We speak from memory" (p. 62)

Depicts mother as a "fallen angel" with "smoked skin" (p. 56)

Unofficial protagonist
Plantation owners
perspective: "You are split in two, divided down your middle by contrary reasonings" (p.65) -> Mr Whitechapel as the narrator

Two "I"s

Italics: Whitechapel

Direct Speech
Youngest daughter of Mr Whitechapel

Status as white woman: obedience

I-narrator, personal POV

Present tense

Experiences many changes

Central theme memory: "Chapel, I want to say, all my memory is yours" (p. 90)

Fantasy of being together

Intertextuality: Paradise Lost, Faust, Faerie Queene (p. 97)
The Virginian
Editorial, dating from Dec 1809- June 1810

17 articles: topics around plantation life

Addresses mainly white newspaper readership
Whitechapel's great-granddaughter

Reveals his past

Tells him about her dream of Africa

Relates Chapel's death, its effect on Whitechapel and also his death
Sanders Junior
Not addressing the reader but dead Whitechapel, talking to himself, giving orders

Grew up on plantation with slaves

Kills Chapel because he cannot lose face

Regrets killing Whitechapel's son, not his half-brother
Group 1: Read pages 85 and 86.
1.) Do you think that literacy is responsible for Chapel's doom which followed?
2) Can we state literacy as a viable means for freedom for slaves?
Group 2: Read pages 1f.
1. What does the first sentence mean?
2. Why does a narrator start his story with "I don't want to remember" and "you do not want to know my past"?
Group 3: Read pages 13-15.
1. Do you agree with Whitechapel’s reasoning about the life of a slave?
2. Do you think Whitechapel regards the system of slavery as unjust?
Full transcript