Destined to fail - about "The Long Song" of Andrea Levy

Term Paper, 2011

10 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. title page

2. contents page

3. introduction

4. body

5. conclusion

6. list of sources

After attending the seminar West Indian Slavery in fiction I realized how little I knew about that cruel episode of history. The third novel we discussed named The Long Song by Andrea Levy was the most impressive to me and made me especially aware of the lack of knowledge I had about the alleged liberators of the slaves in the West Indies. After the first reading of The Long Song I thought the author uses the character of Robert Goodwin only to show how complex the issue of racism is and how even the ideology of abolitionism was undermined by segregation. But when we dealt with this topic in the seminar a discussion aroused about how the meaning of the relationship towards July should be evaluated in that context. I could not comprehend in opposition to the other participants how the feelings Goodwin displays towards July can be interpreted as true love since I always had in mind how cold-hearted he left her behind and even abducted the baby. At the end of the session I was neither convinced nor satisfied because if one accepts his feelings towards July as being true love, the question arouses what the author intended by portraying such a strange relationship. Therefore I want to try to take a closer look at this constellation in order to suggest a reason why Levy lets the new Overseer fall in love with the protagonist. More precisely I want to prove that the development of the character of Robert Goodwin and the experiences he collects within the novel make clear how a racist ideology has to fail in general. Furthermore in his case it is particularly shown how the social and economic restraints of his time destined the young man to fail.

Racism itself of course is not helpful to explain the development of a love affair between a white Overseer and a former house slave but I am still convinced that racism and slavery are fundamental aspects to meaning and interpretation of Goodwin’s thoughts and actions. That is why I want to go into further detail on the issue of slavery first. The enslavement of people has always been an issue throughout the history of mankind and already since ancient times it was justified by the classification of human beings. Socrates for instance characterized people according to their virtue symbolized by different mettles. The virtue of superior men was made of gold and the virtue of inferior men was made of bronze. On that basis his student Aristotle justified the master- slave relation by arguing that it is a natural one where a slave with an inferior virtue in comparison to his master needs a master in order to survive just like a child needs a parent.

“Als erstes ist es notwendig, daß sich jene Wesen verbinden, die ohne einander nicht bestehen können, einerseits das Weibliche und das Männliche der Fortpflanzung wegen […] andererseits das naturgemäß Regierende und Regierte um der Lebenserhaltung willen. Denn was mit dem Verstand vorauszuschauen vermag, ist von Natur das Regierende und Herrschende, was aber mit seinem Körper das Vorgesehene auszuführen vermag, ist das von Natur Regierte und Dienende.“ (Aristoteles p. 48)

In the period of time the novel is set, namely the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th century, similar thoughts existed in Western Europe as well. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus for example, who was highly valued by his contemporaries, subdivided the human species in his publication Systema Naturae from 1735 into four varieties based on continent and skin colour. By the time the tenth edition was published in 1758 he added further distinctions according to the stereotypical characteristics of each variety ( Linnaeus p. 44).The character of Robert Goodwin appears within the story after the abolition of slavery in the year of 1833. Hence we can conclude that a man like Goodwin would not have been unacquainted with such thoughts since he would have spent his formative years in England belonging to an upper social class ”Robert Goodwin was someone who, in England, the missus could, with all propriety, have shaken by the hand. Come, his mother’s family even had a baronet residing somewhere within its ranks.” (Levy p. 214). Until the new Overseer falls in love with July most of his statements indicate that he represents those abolitionists whose ideologies were also permeated by racism. Right from the beginning we learn that the new arrival utterly condemns slavery. “Behold, a new morning has broken. Slavery – that dreadful evil – is at an end” (Levy p. 214) Plus, he seems to campaign for a better treatment of the plantation workers when he, after witnessing the bad circumstances they have to cope with, declares “Such a number of poor, miserable black people I have never seen before, Mrs Mortimer. Their houses and gardens have been neglected – some are in perfect ruin.” (Levy p. 214). But only a couple of sentences later within the same conversation traces of that “underlying pseudo –scientific racism” Levy speaks of in The writing of the Long Song can be detected in the assertions “Negroes are simple, good fellows” and “They need kindness – that is all. When it is shown to them then they will respond well and obediently.” (Levy p. 215). With this generalized evaluation he displays that the African’s intellect was considered inferior to that of whites. Furthermore his argumentation naively presupposes that the former slaves would be grateful to have a more capable white leader. This racialist mindset becomes even more obvious when he compares Africans with animals “They are not so far from dogs in that respect” (Levy p. 215) while he recognizes them as human beings “The Africans stands firmly within the family of man.” (Levy p. 216) at the same time. The speech he gives in front of the remaining labourers also indicates how religion is brought in line with racism.

“And now you must all show yourselves grateful to your masters for having made you free. You must humbly thank God for this blessing of freedom. And you must prove to the Queen, the people of England, and your mistress, that you are worthy of the kindness that has been shown you.” (Levy p. 221)


Excerpt out of 10 pages


Destined to fail - about "The Long Song" of Andrea Levy
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald  (Institut für Fremdsprachliche Philologien)
Seminar Westindian Slavery in Fiction
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
414 KB
destined, long, song, andrea, levy
Quote paper
Lutz Reuter (Author), 2011, Destined to fail - about "The Long Song" of Andrea Levy, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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