The writing of The Long Song
“How can I be proud of my Jamaican roots, when my ancestors had been slaves?” This is a question British novelist with roots in Jamaica Andrea Levy got from a young woman at a conference in London. The question made Levy wonder why anyone would feel shame at having a slave ancestry and gave her the idea of writing a novel that could persuade people, including the young woman, to have pride in their slave ancestors. This novel would be called The Long Song. Levy considered many things at length in the preliminary stage of the book, because the last thing she wanted to do was to write a novel about slavery. The previously mentioned question is also a basis for the theme of the essay “The Writing of The Long Song” by Levy, where she furthermore expounds her thoughts of the book and the deliberations she made during the writing. She narrates the historical events of the British slavery into the bargain.
Levy initiates her essay with referring to the conference in London, as it were a flash back. Levy is of Jamaican heritage herself and in contrary to the young woman, she proudly acknowledges her slave ancestry: “If our ancestors survived the slave ships they were strong. If they survived the plantations they were clever.” (p. 7, l. 16-19). But on the other hand Levy can relate to the doubts of the young woman. Growing up, her parents were at pains to distance themselves from any aspect of their slave ancestry: “My mum would sooner say her family were slave owners than that they were once slaves.” (p. 8, l. 96-98). Levy had some difficulties in the making of the novel, due to the fact that there are very few surviving documents and artefacts that she could find where enslaved people speak for themselves. She wants the readers to realize the magnificence of fiction, because writing fiction in collaboration with history is a method of putting back the voices that were left out in the historical texts: “I was treading where academics cannot go because of the rigour of their discipline”. (p. 10, l. 260-262). Therefore there are two major themes in the essay of Levy: Being proud of your ancestry and the beauty of writing fiction. Levy keeps a personal point of view throughout the text that for instance consists of false concord: “(…) her family were slave owners (…)” (p. 8, l. 97) and an interjection: “Yes, sisters!” (p. 10, l. 231). The personal style of writing brings the essay down to eye level, and makes the receivers of the text relate to Levy and the themes of the novel and essay. It is very probable that the receivers of the text are people who are already fans of Levy and the novel and therefore wants to read the “behind the scenes”-part.
With this essay Levy persuades the readers with the pathos-appeal, trying to get compassion by constantly referring to the horrible actions of the slavery and by having a humorous, down-to-earth angle which the previously mentioned interjection is an example of. Levy uses historical facts by for instance quoting historical texts, and thereby she tries to persuade the receiver using the logos appeal: “Lady Nugent, for example, the wife of the Governor of Jamaica from 1801 to 1805, records in her journal: “The sea was rather rough this evening (…)”” (p. 9, l. 181-185). The fact that Levy employs the logos-appeal in her text, clearly is well-educated in the history of slavery and herself have slave ancestors gives her integrity and makes her seem trustworthy, thus appealing to the readers with the ethos-appeal. The essay of Levy is very personal and biased but she employs a lot of historical knowledge to supply with legitimacy, making the text seem factual and well-considered: “Sometime in the 1500s white Europeans “discovered” the Caribbean islands along with the Americas”. (p. 8, l. 63-65). The personality of the essay of Levy is already made very clear in the beginning, due to the fact that she uses the first person pronouns and refers to her own life in the first paragraph: “Of Jamaican heritage myself, I wondered (…)” (p. 7, l. 11).
Then Levy asks what she was supposed to say to the young woman at the conference who was ashamed by her slave ancestry. She furthermore asks the readers why the woman should be proud. Levy states that small but courageous acts of defiance recur through everything she has read of slaves in the Caribbean: “A spirit that would see them endure and ultimately thrive.” She would want the girl to realize what her ancestors created, for instance a sonorous language, festivals of dance, a musical tradition that is practiced all over the world, wonderful cooking, world class athletes and so on: “The are people who, from their tiny islands, have made a mark on the world”. (p. 11, l. 319-321). She ends her essay by saying that The Long Song is her tribute to the people who survived the slavery and built a culture that affects us all in some way. She wishes her novel will be an inspirational story for us all that can make us realize what she would tell the young woman at the conference: “… our slave ancestors were much more than a mute and wretched mass of victims (…) These were people who needed strength, talent, guile and humour just to survive.” (p. 11, l. 326-332).