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The Whipping Boy

In: English and Literature

Submitted By lenacaesius
Words 1241
Pages 5
In the 19th century it was normal for some people to own other people. During this time slavery was very popular, and the lives of said slaves, was cared for by few. It was Abraham Lincoln who carried America through the civil war, and freed the slaves. But were these slaves freed? What happened in the areas where the President did not show up? This short story ‘’The whipping Boy’’ (2011) by Richard Gibney is an interpretation of what might have happened, when slaves were told that they now were free.
The story, about Tommy’s, Martha’s and Mikey’s escape from slavery, takes place during the Civil war. It is important to know that the story takes place during this time period because a lot happens, involving the ownership of slaves. The confederate states and the Union are in disagreement about whether or not the Louisiana Purchase should be used for slavery. In the text is says that ‘(…) the boy from the Union had come to the farm to let the slaves know they were freemen. ‘’ (l. 1-2) This correlates with Abraham Lincoln passing the presidential order the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 declaring that slaves in Confederate-controlled areas are to be freed. It presumably takes place in the most northerly confederate state Virginia since Tommy, Mikey and Martha are killed halfway to Richmond, the capital of Virginia.
Since the slaves where children they have been working for Mrs. Gage and her son Sterling on a farm. While Sterling had been away on the front, the slaves were told, by a boy from the Union, that they were free men. After a month the slaves are still working for Mrs. Gage, but when Sterling comes home, Mikey and Tommy whips and beats him, only Martha stops them from killing him. The slaves escape, but are all three killed by soldiers halfway to Richmond. The story begins in-medias-res, which means the reader knows nothing of the characters to begin with. The storyline is followed chronologically, with a closed ending and includes foreshadowing. An example of this is in the very beginning where Mikey and Tommy kill the dogs, Rex and Shepherd, which foreshadows their own impending death. This description of the death of the dogs is a good example of the naturalistic writing style that is portrayed realistic and grotesque: ‘’Neither dog had made much noise as the pitchforks were driven into their skulls. Both faces gaped in surprise, their eyes flickering and their mouths opened, expressions frozen in shock.’’ (l. 4-7) The writing style is also unique because it is used to differentiate the slaves and the Gages. The dialogue is very angry and hard from Sterling’s side, but over the years the slaves have learnt to be respectful no matter what, but their lack of education results in grammatical errors. ‘’»You sons of a bitch! What do you think you're doing?« Sterling gasped from the lawn. He rolled onto his stomach, struggling to get up. (…) »Bolitionist kid came on this farm, Master Sterling. He say we's free to do as we like,«’’ (l. 88-90) Another example of foreshadowing in this short-story, is when Mrs. Gage tells Martha that only she can save her son. It has not been implied in any other way that Sterling might be in danger, but the fact that Mrs. Gage knows anyway is foreshadowing. ‘’She looked at Martha with purpose when she told her, »Only you can save my son.«’’ (l. 57-58) When the writer chooses to foreshadow events, it does not necessarily mean that said events are expected by the reader, though it can be. It is for example still surprising that the slaves die, because the foreshadowing is subtle, and because you, as the reader, are rooting for them to escape.
The story is told by an omniscient third person narrator, from the slaves’ point of view. We know this because we hear what goes through the minds of the slaves, Tommy, Martha and Mikey: ‘’They both found the boy from the Union's story credible, and he had held a Proclamation that appeared official enough.’’ (l. 21-23) Reading the story in third person makes it seem real, and as if the reader is actually there. It induces frustration, since the reader feels the need to stop this behavior, but is unable to. This point of view also has the effect of making the reader root for the slaves. We know what is going through their minds, and even, what they want in life: ‘’Then they could all go North, Mikey, his new wife and his brother, all working for wages in the city.’’(l. 44-45) In this quote, the relationships between the three are specified. Mikey is brother to Tommy and in love with Martha. Mikey likes Martha more than she likes him, she has come to terms with her fate, and is not hopeful for freedom like Mikey and Tommy: ‘’When Mikey and Martha lay alone, he offered to smother the old woman [Mrs. Gage] in her sleep.’’ (...) ‘’Martha baulked at the suggestion and raised her eyes to Heaven. She looked at him in disbelief.’’ (l. 44-46). She had always been taking care of Mrs. Gage, and had been sexually abused by her son: ‘’Sterling Gage's approaches had sickened her because she had to submit herself to him, and his jealousy forbade her to go with any other man.’’(l. 37-40) It terrified her, but made her feel connected to him nonetheless - she could not bear the beating Mikey and Tommy gave him. Combined with the pressure from Mrs. Gage, who told her, that she had sinned with her son, and that he loved her, she was able to save Sterling from Mikey and Tommy. Mikey and Tommy had stirred each other up, before they attacked Sterling. When Mikey fell drunk asleep on the couch, he was beaten by Sterling, without resisting or opening his mouth. He had been used to respecting him his entire life. It wasn’t before Tommy came in, he rushed out and beat Sterling: ‘’»You gwyne take that?« Tommy asked, the anger rising into a shriek. He held a whip in his hands. He tossed it into Mikey's Brasp. »We's free to do as we like!«’’ (l. 74-78)
The themes in this short-story are ownership, humanity and loyalty. To feel owned by another person takes it’s toll on people, and leaves the state of slaves in a hollow shell of a person when they are freed. Today we call this inhumane, but in the 19th century, blacks were not perceived as human, so the blacks’ loyalty lied within ‘their own kind’, and the whites’ lied within themselves.
These slaves suffered a terrible fate as an ending to their terrible life, even though Mikey and Martha had experienced love. The ending was foreshadowed by the writer, but is still surprising and heartbreaking to the reader, since the slaves probably are the ones the reader roots for. Is this story we see the big difference between the whites and the blacks in for example the writing style and use of dialog. To think that this segregation has completely disappeared in the 21st century is wishful thinking, and todays society still struggle with cases of racism. The ownership of humans has decreased to a level of almost non-existing, which we, among others, can thank Abraham Lincoln for.

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