The whipping boy

6 June 2016

The Whipping Boy is a short story, written by Richard Gibney in 2011, and used for the written English exams in the summer of 2013 in Denmark. The Whipping Boy is a story about three slaves, two men and a woman, who get told that they’re no longer slaves, and that they can do whatever they want to. The two men start off by killing the ground dogs, because the dogs are considered evil towards the slaves. Afterwards they whip their former owner, because they want him to feel, how they have felt their entire lives, under his ownership. Then they get him drunk and escape the premises with the female slave, only to be discovered and killed by a squad of the federation’s army.

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The short story is a tale about freedom, slavery and the conditions the slaves had to endure before, and even after they were liberated. The story takes place around 1865-66 due to the boy from the Union with the proclamation that states that the slaves are free men and women, and furthermore does the fact that the three slaves meet a squad from the southern states army, indicate that it takes place somewhere between those years. Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election and that escalated into the American civil war in 1861, and ended with the Unions victory in 1865 and the liberation of slaves all across the USA. The author uses foreshadowing (a type of building up suspense in a story, where the reader can predict what happens) in the text multiple times, and the first incident is already in the title “The Whipping Boy”.

Already here we, as readers, can in a way predict that this story has something to do with tables turning, because back in that time, African American slave males were often referred to as “boy”, and it was also a known punishment to slaves to be whipped. To mix up these two terms in the title makes the reader think about the meaning of it, and try to predict the story, in a way that concludes in slaves whipping a white man, which it actually does. The main character in the story is Mikey, whom has been living on the plantation owned by the Gage family his entire life. He grew up alongside the son of the plantation owner and thought of him as a friend, until the son accused Mikey for doing something he did not do, which ended with Mickey getting whipped at the age of 8. Later in the story, the tables are turned and the slaves assault the son, Sterling Gage, when he returned from military actions, because they are free now, and Mikey is whipping Sterling, because Sterling had taken over the family plantation after his father had died back in 1852.

I believe that in this action, Mikey is living out a lifetime worth of revenge upon Sterling, ever since he had Mikey whipped on unrighteous reasons as a child. And the slaves almost kill Sterling before they leave because they want to make the score even with their former master, because they are free to do as they want. But I believe that they had mistaken the fact that they were free, because they proceed to torture a man and steal his gun and wagon, to be able to flee the plantation, and that is still illegal. The motives that drives the characters to what they do, is mainly to inflict vengeance upon their suppressors. I believe they do this, based on a reason most people choose do such things to their suppressors, pure hate.

They have been suppressing their own hatred towards the white owners for a very long time. That hatred just remains, sizzling and boiling inside, and when you’re suddenly a free man to do what you please, nobody would question their way of thinking. It is clear that the narrator in this text is an omniscient narrator, this is visible a number of times in the story for example “She couldn’t discern whether the flash she saw was from the inception of Mikey’s conflagrating death or from the discharge of the shot that went into her skull.”.

You can spot the omniscient narrator by the ability to go inside Martha’s head and see what she is thinking in this particular moment, and especially in this very moment because Martha would not be able to tell anybody how she felt, because she got shot in the head by the confederate soldier. As I mentioned in the beginning the themes in this story is mainly freedom and slavery, but there are other themes as well. Such as a small love story between Martha and Mikey, revenge between Mikey and Sterling, compassion between Martha and Mrs. Gage and last but not least that crime does not pay.

No matter who you are, thou shalt not commit mischief upon one another, you can see that by the ending of the text where the three slaves get killed. That would also appear to be the main message in the text, because in the entire story you come to be rather fond of the slaves and hope that they get away and survive. But that does not happen. Instead they get killed very suddenly and the story ends. That is why I believe that the message of the text is that no one can suspect to get away after committing a crime. Forget & Forgive.

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