“The place had undone them. They joked and they picked fast when the bosses’ eyes were on them and they acted big, but at night in the cabin after midnight they wept, they screamed from nightmares and wretched memories. In Caesar’s cabin, in the next cabins over, and in every slave village near and far.”

This passage is in the chapter titled “Caesar.” Caesar, an outsider to Randall and plantation slavery, sees how it harms not just the bodies but also the minds of the men he lives and works alongside. Although they are physically strong and act tough during the day, the cruelties of the plantation have wounded them psychologically. Whitehead describes the men as suffering from common symptoms of PTSD. Moreover, he describes these experiences as universal to plantation life. The men in Caesar’s cabin are psychologically tortured at night, and so are the men of the other cabins at Randall and everywhere slavery exists. Whitehead compares the mental torments of the night to the physical pain of the day. Both physical and mental agony are part of the lasting damage slavery does to the enslaved. 

“A horseshoe puckered on Sybil’s neck, ugly and purple—her first owner had raised draft horses. Cora thanked the Lord that her skin had never been burned in such a way. But we have all been branded even if you can’t see it, inside if not without—and the wound from Randall’s cane was the very same thing, marking her as his.”

This passage appears in the “Indiana” chapter, as Royal drives Cora to see the ghost tunnel. Cora is using a bonnet to cover the scar on her temple, which makes her nervous because she may be recognized. The scar identifies her as the Cora who ran away from Randall, no matter how far she travels or how many steps she takes to build a life as a free woman, learning to read and beginning a romance with Royal. Like Sybil’s brand, a burn originally meant to mark ownership of livestock, the scar marks her as property forever. In this passage, Whitehead expands the concept of the brand beyond a physical scar. Cora reflects that slavery marks all enslaved people, leaving scars on their psyches even if not on their flesh. Even Cora as is living a life of freedom in Indiana, the fear she feels is a scar Randall has left on her, as much as the mark on her temple.

“Here’s one delusion: that we can escape slavery. We can’t. Its scars will never fade.”

Lander makes this statement in his speech to Valentine farm in the Indiana chapter, arguing that all Black people have lasting scars of slavery. In the preceding speech, Mingo has argued that some people are too damaged by slavery to be saved by the farm. His argument for a gradual approach to creating a haven for Black people, accommodating the fears of their white neighbors by proving their worthiness for freedom, relies on presenting the residents of the farm as model citizens. In his view, the farm should exclude the permanently damaged. In this reply, Lander argues that all Black people have been damaged, that despite their varied histories, all Black people bear the scars of slavery. Mingo believes he is different from runaways like Cora because he bought his own freedom. However, Lander argues that even people like him, who were never enslaved, are marked by slavery because all Black Americans are. In this passage, Whitehead suggests that these scars should be used to unite the community rather than exclude some people from it.