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[Modified Video Transcription]
In a previous video, we covered some of the themes found in both The 7 Stages of Grieving and The Longest Memory. I’d recommend that you watch that video first (or read it’s accompanying blog post if you prefer reading) because once you know some of the themes, you can get even more out of this video. In this video, we’ll be looking at a scene each from both The 7 Stages of Grieving and The Longest Memory, and trying to compare them a little bit.
We’ll be applying the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy from LSG’s How To Write A Killer Comparative and exploring how ideas are developed in similar or different thematic directions in these texts. CONVERGENT ideas lead to similar conclusions and messages, while DIVERGENT ideas take us to different conclusions. If you’d like to learn more about this strategy which can help you build more insightful discussions of the text by finding unique points of comparison, then I’d recommend you check out the LSG’s How To Write A Killer Comparative study guide.
The Play (The 7 Stages of Grieving)
Let’s go to scene 14 of the play - this should be the report of Daniel Yocke’s death in police custody. The woman recounts his death in a factual, impersonal style as if reading from a court report. She describes how the police pursued and arrested Yocke after he went out drinking with a group of friends, and how he was detained and taken to the watchhouse. He arrives without a pulse, but the report doesn’t go into detail about how that happened between his arrest and his arrival. The woman breaks into bursts of emotion toward the end of the scene.
While most of the play deals with issues that are universal and timeless for First Nations peoples, this scene looks at a specific real event. However, this doesn’t mean that this scene isn’t timeless - First Nations deaths in custody are still a major issue for which no police officer has been held legally accountable - but this scene chooses just one example out of several hundred.
The emotionally detached tone makes the situation feel serious, but in a way, that distances us and the woman from the brutality and the violence of what must’ve happened. After all, how exactly was Yocke dead upon arriving at the watchhouse? How badly must the police have mishandled him for that to have happened? Along the way, there are little outbursts of emotion (like the little outburst of ‘people called him Boonie!’) and these remind us that the detachment belies the true significance of what happened - the needless loss of yet another Aboriginal person’s life.
This has been such a persistent problem in our history - this scene happened in 1993, but even in today’s time we’re still dealing with the same problem. The institution of policing has been unaccountable and violent for decades, at least, and something desperately needs to change.
The Novel (The Longest Memory)
Let’s go to the novel now and look at Chapter 6: Plantation Owners.
In this chapter, Mr. Whitechapel is talking to his peers about Chapel’s death in this clubhouse that his father had built for his own peers. Mr. Whitechapel is initially nervous that they’ll make fun of him, and they kind of do - they point out how hypocritical it is for him to think that he can treat the people he’s enslaved with humanity, and to stick to this argument even after Chapel had been whipped to death. At some point in this banter, he realises this physical violence is unjust and starts proposing ‘another way to organise the economy’ that isn’t slavery, but this draws even more mockery. He ultimately leaves feeling a little more convinced by the perspectives of his peers.
What does this chapter tell us, and how is it similar to the scene from the play?
Well, in both scenes, white men get away with murdering a Black man, and it comes down to socio-economic and institutional power. In this chapter, Mr. Whitechapel and his fellow enslavers all inherit significant wealth and extremely prejudiced attitudes from their fathers, and this creates not only pressure, but also a financial incentive, to conform to the system of slavery. He touches on the possibility of abolition, but this is seen as impossible - certainly, none of these men want to lose their power.
Looking more closely at this chapter, we also see how Mr. Whitechapel is exactly the hypocrite that everybody says he is - it’s ridiculous for him to pretend he’s treating black people fairly when they are dying under his watch. He says he’s feeding enslaved workers adequately and treating them with respect, but none of this is actually going to protect them from violence, and none of this is going to level the playing field so that white enslavers are held accountable. Ultimately, Mr. Whitechapel isn’t seriously interested in making substantive changes to slavery in the name of morality; he is simply trying to save face.
I’ve chosen these two scenes because they both illustrate the dynamics of race and power which pervade both texts, but these two scenes might not be the first ones that come to your mind as a pair that you can analyse together, and that’s totally fine! I encourage you to find your own scenes to compare because that’s what makes English powerful. If you, as a unique student, can compare two scenes that nobody else has compared, that’s going to give you an extra edge because you’re more likely to say something original.
If you’re interested in finding more unique ways to compare these two texts, I’d recommend LSG’s The 7 Stages of Grieving & The Longest Memory study guide. I know there aren’t many resources out there for this text pairing, so what we’ve done at LSG is work really hard at ensuring that all the information in this study guide will actually be beneficial for you. We’re not here just to make you read more guides - we’ve really thought about what would be meaningful for you as a student learning this pairing. That’s why you’ll see that I’ve used some of the ideas mentioned in this video and turned them into an A+ essay, so you can see exactly how knowing this information translates into your SAC/exam.
There’s a free sample of the study guide you can check out to see if it’s right for you!