1. Dana and Kevin never officially moved in together while they were dating, simply switching off nights at their two small apartments filled with books. Kevin urges Dana to quit at the agency and focus on writing full-time, but Dana likes the independence that having a paying job gives her. Four months after they meet, Kevin casually brings up marriage, and teases Dana that she could type all his manuscripts if they were married. Typing has been a sore subject between them, as both Kevin and Dana hate the work. Dana has already refused to type for Kevin twice, angering Kevin though he ultimately accepted it.
Dana and Kevin each retain their independence in their relationship, keeping their own space even as they start to live together. Dana does not want Kevin to have control over her by supporting her monetarily, preferring to keep her job and stay on equal economic footing with Kevin. Kevin at first tries to get Dana to put her own creative work on hold in order to further his writing, but eventually learns to accept that he and Dana must be true partners for the relationship to continue.
Dana is surprised by the thought of marriage, asking Kevin if his family would be opposed to him marrying her. Kevin has no close family left except his sister, who he expects will love Dana. Dana is not quite reassured, and furthermore thinks that her aunt and uncle won’t be in favor of their marriage. Still, Kevin and Dana decide to get married and go to tell their families separately.
Kevin does not expect resistance to his relationship with Dana, as he sees Dana as a full person instead of simply a black person. Dana has experienced enough racial discrimination in her life, though, to know that the world is not as accepting of racial mixing as Dana and Kevin would like and as progressive activists would hope.
Kevin is shocked when his sister threatens to cut off contact with Kevin if he marries a black woman. He blames this racism on influence from his sister’s prejudiced husband. Dana’s aunt is in favor of the match because Kevin’s skin will make Dana’s children lighter, but her uncle is personally offended that Dana doesn’t want to marry a black man. Dana’s uncle says he will cut her out of the will if she marries Kevin, but Dana remains committed to her relationship. Kevin is equally determined to get married, so the couple elopes in Vegas.
Dana and Kevin do not let their families’ criticism and hurt feelings get in the way of their marriage, but their life would be easier if they had more support starting their life together. While Kevin’s sister espouses straight-forward racism, Dana’s aunt displays more complex internalized prejudice that holds up light skin as the height of beauty. Meanwhile Dana’s uncle is hurt that Dana is “rejecting” her family and her heritage by allying herself to a white man, not seeing how Dana is making the best choice for herself.
2. Dana wakes up on the floor of her bathroom in 1976 with her back on fire and Kevin nowhere to be found. She gingerly gets up and fills the bathtub with warm water. She gets in the tub with her clothes on and waits for the water to loosen the strips of cloth from her torn back, wishing forcefully that Kevin were there. She imagines Kevin in the past, thinking that he might have gotten to go West. Eventually she gets out of the tub and falls immediately to sleep.
Dana’s return to the present might have saved her life by not only helping her escape from Tom’s whip but also offering her the chance to treat her wounds with better hygiene. Slaves on the Weylin plantation would have had nothing better than lye or salt to try to keep the lashes from becoming infected.
When Dana wakes again, she searches for an old prescription for sleeping pills, but then catches sight of herself in the mirror and decides to take another shower to wash her hair. Everything hurts, but Dana pushes through until she feels human again. She then puts together a replacement emergency bag with some extra modern comforts like aspirin, toothpaste, and ball-point pens. She still has the large knife because it was tied to her ankle when she transported back. Dana hadn’t had a chance to use it in defense against Tom, and wonders whether the consequences of killing Tom would be worth sparing herself pain. She finishes packing the bag, finds herself something to eat, and goes back to sleep.
Dana decides to wash her hair through the pain because it is more important to feel clean and human after an experience in which Tom (and society in general) tried to treat her as an animal. This shower allows her to take back her humanity. Each time she goes back to the past, Dana becomes more accustomed to the violence of that life – her qualms about killing Tom are now more about the potential consequences after Tom is dead rather than a distaste for murdering someone.
The next time Dana wakes, it is morning. Dana’s back feels like a burn injury, and she wonders how to treat the lacerations without getting an infection. She thinks of the field hand she saw whipped who had brine thrown in his wounds and was able to heal without infection, but the thought of the horrible punishment feels out of place now that Dana is home. She puts ointment on her back and a loose dress, then goes outside. Watching a neighbor working in a garden causes Dana to think of Margaret, but the thoughts make Dana feel even more confused about where she belongs in time. Dana turns on a radio and finds that the date is June 11, 1976. Her two-month trip to the past has only taken one day in the present.
Dana’s enslaved ancestors would have had no chance to recover in peace from a whipping, but would have been treated with more pain after the inhumane beating. Yet Dana has trouble holding on to the visceral reality of life in the past when surrounded by the relative comfort of the present. Without Kevin, Dana feels displaced in time and unsure of where her home is. Her long experience in the past is reduced to only a day in the present, showing how quickly the traumas of the past can be forgotten in modern times.
Dana sits down in her office and tries to write, but is unable to put down any words. She calls her favorite cousin in Pasadena and asks her to bring groceries, because she is too afraid to leave the house in case she transports again from an unknown location. The cousin comes quickly with food, immediately assuming that Kevin has been abusive when she sees the bruises on Dana’s face and body. The cousin seems disappointed that Dana would let a man beat her, but Dana knows that the cousin will keep this a secret.
Dana usually finds solace in her writing, but her time as a slave was so traumatic that she cannot even find the words to express it for herself. Dana can’t explain to her cousin what actually happened to her, so she is forced to let her cousin think that Kevin has abused her. Though their relationship is actually healthy, Butler points out that women, even in the more “progressive” present, are vulnerable to mistreatment by male partners.
Days pass, and Dana stays in the present. She tries to busy herself with books about slavery, but is unable to stand the accounts of “happy darkies” presented in books like Gone With the Wind. Finally, Dana finds Kevin’s World War II books and identifies strongly with the horrible suffering of the Jewish people, comparing the concentration camps to a distilled version of the oppression that the American South stretched out over two hundred years.
Butler points out that many books of American history gloss over the atrocities of slavery in order to make the American past more palatable. Dana finds more solace in sharing the horrors of her time as a slave with the accounts of Holocaust survivors who endured many of the same things.
3. After eight days at home, Dana feels the dizziness once more. She is transported to the woods with the sun either rising or setting. To the side, a young black woman holds onto a torn dress and watches a white man and a black man fighting. From the white man’s red hair, Dana knows he is Rufus, even though his face is obscured with blood. Dana assumes from the situation that Rufus has forced himself on the black woman, and the black man is defending her honor. Rufus is losing the fight badly, and Dana realizes that she has to save Rufus because he is perhaps the only person who can help her find Kevin.
Again Dana has to save Rufus from his own impulsivity and stupidity. Rufus is used to getting what he wants with no consequences, but his desire to have this woman has caught up with him this time. Though Dana might want Rufus to get what he deserves for taking advantage of a black woman, she is forced to help Rufus because of the information that Rufus might have about Kevin, not to mention the fact that Rufus has to survive so that Dana’s ancestor, and thus Dana herself, can be conceived.
The black woman catches sight of Dana and calls out, as the black man lands one more blow on Rufus and knocks Rufus unconscious. Dana approaches the small group as the black man moves to hit Rufus while he is down, and she cautions the man against killing a white person. The man is suspicious and hostile to Dana’s interference, but backs down despite his extreme anger over what Rufus has done to his wife.
While Rufus certainly deserves to be punished for what he has done to this woman, Dana reminds the black man that there would actually be worse consequences for him to deal with if Rufus were to die. No one would believe that the black man was acting in self-defense, and he would surely be killed for murdering a white man.
The black woman also counsels her husband, Isaac, not to kill Rufus. As the woman speaks, Dana realizes that she is Alice, now grown up. Alice recognizes Dana and explains that she married Isaac Jackson after her mother died, even though Rufus was jealous. Dana promises not to tell anyone where Alice and Isaac go (assuming that they will run away), and even offers to write the pair a pass to help them as they travel. Isaac refuses this, and turns to go. Before they leave, Alice tells Dana that Kevin waited for a long time but eventually went North. Dana wonders how she will find Kevin now.
Alice, a free black woman, chooses to follow her own heart in her life instead of bowing down to Rufus’s desires, even though she knows that Rufus may react poorly to this news. Dana uses her own skills and education to offer to write a pass that might help the two escape to the North where they could be more in control of their lives. Kevin has gone North, presumably because he could not stomach living in the South with his ideals of equality.
4. Dana rolls Rufus onto his back and assesses the injuries, deeming them fairly minimal. She waits for Rufus to wake up, hoping that Alice and Isaac will have a good head start in fleeing. Finally, Rufus comes to. He is glad that Dana came to help him, and asks where Alice and Isaac went, but Dana refuses to tell him. Dana then tells Rufus that his new story is that he was attacked by a group of white men who robbed him. Rufus balks at the lie, but backs down when Dana reminds him that he has done a horrible act by trying to rape Alice, and should be grateful to Dana and Alice for saving his life.
Rufus may have done something horrible, but he still has a conscious that Dana can appeal to in order to make running away a bit easier for Alice and Isaac. Dana continues to try to shape Rufus into a better person than his father or the rest of Antebellum society want him to be. Her task as Rufus’s guardian includes caring for his soul as well as his mental well-being. Though Dana is Rufus’s descendent, she takes on a parent-like role.
Rufus seems to feel guilty for what he has done to Alice, confirming that he did rape her but also getting angry that Alice would dare to prefer a black man over him. Dana reminds Rufus that Alice is a free woman with the right to say no, but Rufus won’t hear it. He daydreams aloud about the punishment that Alice and Isaac will receive for running off together, and Dana shudders that the young boy she knew has turned into this man. But then Rufus’s tone softens as he tells Dana that he told Alice about Dana and Kevin’s marriage to try to convince Alice to leave Isaac for him. Dana realizes that Rufus does love Alice, in his twisted fashion.
Rufus still believes that he is a far better choice for Alice, because he has been conditioned to believe that white people are inherently superior than black people. Even though he feels bad for hurting Alice, Rufus does not recognize Alice’s agency and ability to choose what she wants in life. His “love,” though he tries to compare it to the partnership and love between Kevin and Dana, looks more like ownership.
Rufus tries to get up, but is in too much pain from his broken ribs to manage it. Dana agrees to go for help on the condition that Rufus does not betray Isaac and Alice. She reminds Rufus that they both have to rely on one another or else risk massive consequences, given that their relationship has life or death stakes. Dana knows that she could abandon Rufus right now if he won’t work with her, as Alice’s rape means there is a chance that Dana’s ancestor Hagar has already been conceived. Finally, Rufus agrees to say that white men attacked him and Dana goes to get Rufus help.
Dana makes deals with Rufus that force Rufus to treat Dana as an equal rather than a slave meant to do his bidding. Dana and Rufus are linked together in a bond more complex than the master-slave relationship, as each has to depend on the other in order to survive. Dana’s only hope is that Rufus has already started her family line, but Dana has to help Rufus until Hagar is born in order to ensure her own existence.
Dana heads off through the forest as night begins to fall, marking the trail back to Rufus with bits of paper. Once on the road, she passes a house much finer than the Weylins’ and wonders about how things have changed on the Weylin plantation in the intervening years. She gets close enough to see the Weylin house in the distance and is startled to find that she feels as though she is coming home. She gently touches her still healing back to remind herself that this place is hostile. Though it has only been a few days for her, Dana begins to feel as though years have passed in her time as well.
Dana has a complicated relationship to the Weylin house. It is a place that has caused her immense pain, but it also a place where she feels as though she belongs. Dana is needed in the Weylin house, and has bonds with both Rufus and the other slaves as a kind of chosen family. Furthermore, this house is the last place that she saw Kevin – the person who most signifies home to Dana. The events in the past are far more intense than events in the present and so take greater precedence in Dana’s mind.
Dana approaches the house, mentally preparing herself to see Tom Weylin, but is stopped by an unfamiliar white man. Dana explains that she is getting help for Rufus, and the white man mutters about worthless Rufus getting in trouble again. The man tells Dana to come into the house and Dana sees Carrie in the hall. Carrie hugs Dana fiercely, making the white man suspicious again. Tom Weylin then comes out of the library and tells the white man, Jake, to send for the doctor, while Nigel takes the wagon and get Rufus.
Butler points out that Rufus seems especially accident-prone, as Dana has had to come save him from potential death many more times than seems likely for most people. Tom seems to have accepted his son’s foolishness and does not complain about the cost of the doctor as he did when Rufus was younger, but Tom still expresses contempt for his own son. Dana’s feelings of being home are solidified by Carrie’s welcome, showing that Dana was missed in the Weylin house.
Dana warns Tom that Rufus probably has broken ribs, but Tom is unconcerned and tells Dana to bandage them when Rufus gets here. Dana worries that her mediocre medical knowledge will injure Rufus further, but doesn’t risk another confrontation with Tom. Dana gets in the back of the wagon, and is surprised to see that Nigel has grown into the spitting image of Luke in the intervening years. Tom barks at Nigel and Dana to stop talking and asks Dana to give them directions to Rufus.
Tom seems to believe that Dana has magical healing knowledge, though Dana only knows the basic first aid that average people know in 1976. This is still more than most people in the 1800s understand about the human body, and so gives Dana an advantage to ensure that Rufus survives. Nigel also greets Dana like family, welcoming her back to the plantation, while Tom gave her a very cold reception even though Dana is trying to help his son.
The group finds Rufus with little difficulty. Nigel lifts Rufus carefully into the wagon and Dana feels his forehead, noticing he has a fever. Once back at the house, Nigel carries Rufus up the stairs, while Tom calls Dana back. Tom asks “what” Dana is, knowing that she is the same woman who has disappeared and reappeared on this estate. Dana tries not to answer, simply reminding Tom that she has saved Rufus’ life. Tom is not grateful for Dana’s help with his son, but surprisingly tells Dana that Kevin went North and has written some letters to Rufus. Tom also allows Dana to stay on the plantation as long as she works and helps Rufus. Dana hopes that Kevin will return at some point.
Dana herself has no idea how she is traveling back in time, and Butler again gives no exact explanation for the fantastical elements of the novel. The time travel is a device Butler uses to explore her themes, rather than a major plot point. Despite the lack of thanks she receives for saving Rufus’s life so often, Dana still feels that she has an obligation to help her white ancestors as much as possible. This duty, as well as the danger of a black woman traveling alone, keeps Dana from leaving the estate to search for Kevin.
6. Up in Rufus’s room, Dana bandages Rufus as best she can, but his fever and coughing get worse. Sarah comes up to see Dana and sighs at the marks of fighting on Rufus’s face. Noticing that Sarah is acting as if she were Rufus’s mother, Dana asks about Margaret. Sarah whispers that Margaret is in Baltimore, but won’t say more in front of Rufus. Rufus thrashes on the bed and Dana decides to give him some of her aspirin from her emergency bag. The doctor is held up at a birth, so Dana spends the night with Rufus, because Tom seems to think that Dana’s “magic” translates to healing ability.
The members of the biological Weylin family do not care for each other as much as long-time house slaves like Sarah care for Rufus. Rufus is almost a surrogate child for Sarah, growing up in her care after Sarah’s biological children were sold. Yet though Rufus cares for Sarah, he does not respect her or award her the concern that he would give to his “real” family. Dana doesn’t believe that she really has healing magic, but pills such as aspirin seem like magic when compared to the rudimentary medical knowledge that Tom displays.
Nigel comes up to tell Dana to call Sarah if she needs anything, and Dana welcomes his friendly presence. Nigel tells Dana that he and Carrie are expecting a baby together, and that Rufus paid for a minister to come give them real wedding vows instead of making them “jump the broom.” Dana knows that Nigel and Carrie’s marriage still isn’t legal, and silently wishes that Alice and Isaac had been allowed to marry legally.
Just as interracial marriages are illegal at this time, slave marriages also did not have legal authority. Many slaves took to the tradition of jumping over a broom to symbolically mark their marriage, though they would never be legally allowed to marry. Slave owners could sell husbands and wives away from each other on a whim, or separate a couple that they disliked if they wished.
The next morning, Dana and Rufus eat breakfast together. Rufus comments that Tom wouldn’t like seeing a slave eat with his son, but that Tom will be fair and not punish Dana for following Rufus’s orders to eat in his room. Dana isn’t sure that Tom is fair, but admits that he is not as cruel as he could be. Rufus is in a good mood, and chatters to Dana that she still looks so young. Dana asks about Kevin, and Rufus points to Kevin’s letters in his desk, still trying to wrap his head around the time difference. Rufus marvels that Dana would still be young even when he is an old man, but Dana warns him that he has to be more careful if he ever expects to grow old.
Though Dana doesn’t consider Tom “fair,” she acknowledges that Tom does not cause the slaves pain for his own pleasure. With the power given to white men during this time, Tom is simply used to getting what he wants at all times. Rufus has a much closer relationship with the slaves than Tom does, seeming to actually want their company – especially Dana’s. As their ages get closer and Rufus matures, he starts to see Dana as a potential friend and confidante rather than an awe-inspiring guardian.
Kevin’s letters are sent from addresses in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. In the most recent letter, Kevin says he is heading for Maine. Dana hopes Kevin hasn’t left for Maine yet so she can send him a letter and call him back to the Weylin plantation. Tom then comes in with the doctor, who interrogates Dana about Rufus’s condition. Dana can see that the doctor knows little more about real medicine than she does, but at least the doctor won’t “bleed” Rufus, as the fever seems to be gone. Dana escapes down to the cookhouse.
Kevin keeps going north, presumably looking for a society that looks more like 1976 in terms of freedom and equality for the genders and races. With the low place of black women in the Antebellum South, Dana has to deal with the contempt and distrust of the doctor, even though she has more medical knowledge than a man who still believes that intentionally draining Rufus’s blood will be helpful to his recovery.
In the cookhouse, Dana angrily kneads dough for Sarah and catches up on the news of Margaret. After a hard pregnancy, Margaret gave birth to sickly twins who soon died. Margaret was in poor condition and her sister took her to Baltimore to heal. Meanwhile, Margaret’s cousin, Jake Edwards, has become the overseer. Sarah won’t say more, so Dana asks Nigel later what happened to Luke. Nigel quietly tells her that Luke was sold, and says nothing more.
Childbirth was an especially harrowing time for women in the Antebellum era, rendering them vulnerable to disease and death, as most doctors did not understand how to keep the mother safe during the birthing process. This is yet another way that Dana’s gender opens her up to greater danger in the past. The Weylins continue to show no respect for the familial bonds among their slaves, as they sell Luke away from his son.
Rufus later fills in the blanks about Luke, saying that Luke’s habit of doing what he wanted and “acting white” caught up with him. Rufus warns Dana not to end up the same way. Dana shudders to think of trying to escape from a Louisiana plantation, and wonders aloud why Nigel stayed. Rufus explains that Nigel did try to run, but Patrollers brought him back. And now that Nigel is married with a child on the way, Rufus isn’t worried that he will try to run again. Dana tells Rufus that he doesn’t have to sell anyone when he is the head of the plantation.
To Nigel, “acting white” means being able to choose for oneself how to live. Luke attempted to maintain his own agency by telling white people what they wanted to hear but acting on his own desires. Nigel also tried to find a kind of freedom, but is far more tied down to the Weylin estate now that he has a wife and expected child to care for. Rufus seems to follow his father’s example of using family ties to manipulate people like Sarah and Nigel into willingly remaining in slavery.
Dana sits down at Rufus’s desk to write a letter to Kevin using her ball-point pen. Rufus is intrigued by the pen and Dana allows him to look at the other things she brought from the present while she writes. Rufus starts to read a book on slavery Dana brought, calling it abolitionist trash. Dana explains that the book is just history, meant to tell what happened rather than persuade anyone to either side. Knowing that the book has details about important figures like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Nat Turner, Dana worries what will happen because this book is in a white man’s hands. Rufus tells Dana she should burn the book if she doesn’t want to end up like another Denmark Vesey.
While Dana tries to help Rufus gain a more modern mindset regarding respect for black people, it is dangerous to let Rufus know too much about how the course of history will play out. Dana worries that Rufus will try to stop abolitionist figures or freedom fighters if he learns too much about their subversive actions during this time. Butler gives no concrete answer to whether Dana’s presence in the past has the power to change the present, but Dana must be careful either way. Rufus brings up Denmark Vesey as an example of a former slave who tried to lead a slave revolt. Vesey (a real historical figure) was caught and executed.
Dana decides it probably is safer to burn the book. She tears out the map of Maryland and throws the book on the fire, though this makes her think of Nazi book burnings. She then seals her letter to Kevin and hands it to Rufus to send. Rufus tells Dana that he won’t send it unless she burns the map too. Dana is upset that Rufus is stooping to blackmail, and begins to gather her things. Rufus presses her and Dana explodes that she shouldn’t have to bargain for her freedom. Rufus says he is only trying to help her survive, and that he is the reason that Tom didn’t shoot Kevin when Dana disappeared. If Tom sees the map, Rufus probably won’t be able to protect Dana. Dana wants to keep the map out of principle, but knows that she doesn’t really need it to escape. She burns the map, and Rufus tells her, “Welcome home.”
Dana again draws parallels between the tight control of information and knowledge among American slaves and the Nazi preoccupation with dictating what sort of literature and ideas people should be able to access. By controlling education, both American slave-owners and German Nazis were able to keep groups oppressed. Rufus flaunts his own power over Dana by forcing her to burn the map. Though he claims that it is for Dana’s safety, Rufus truly wants to keep Dana dependent on him and stuck with no way to leave the Weylin estate. Rufus also considers the Weylin house to be Dana’s home, ignoring the fact that Dana is treated poorly in a place where she should be treated as family.
7. After five days, Isaac and Alice are caught. Two days later, Rufus and Nigel take the wagon into town – ostensibly to mail Dana’s letter, but really so that Rufus can buy Alice. Unaware, Dana goes to help a young slave named Tess with the laundry. With Margaret gone, Sarah minds the house and manages much better than Margaret did. Dana is surprised that Sarah makes the slaves work so hard, and questions why Sarah doesn’t run. Sarah reminds Dana what happens to most slaves who escape and get caught.
Though Dana has a privileged position as one of Rufus’ favorite slaves, she still works just as hard as the other slaves in order to belong with them and not cause resentment. Sarah also works hard, and forces the other slaves to also for fear of what the Weylins would do to punish them all if any one slave was disobedient.
Dana wants to give Sarah hope of freedom, telling her about books written by slaves who escaped and made it North. Sarah can’t read and doesn’t want to hear any more dangerous talk. Dana sees that Sarah has accepted the “safe” life of slavery, a choice that activists in the 1960s would abhor. Dana looks down on Sarah until she sees Rufus come back with Alice.
Sarah’s illiteracy keeps her from believing that anything written in books could actually contain information that is useful for her own life, even if that information would help her to freedom. Sarah chooses to remain a slave rather than risk the awful punishments given to slaves who are caught trying to run away. Dana at first sees this as cowardly, but Butler points out that Sarah is making a conscious choice to keep herself and her daughter safe, and should actually be applauded for her strength in enduring the day-to-day horrors of living as a slave.
Rufus and Nigel return late that night, with Alice barely alive in the back of the wagon. Rufus calls Dana down to tend to Alice’s wounds. They take Alice to the attic where Dana does the best she can to clean Alice’s cuts with soap and lye and bandage the wounds. Tom would never call the doctor to treat a black person, and the only other option is an elderly healer named Aunt Mary who barely remembers her name. Rufus is concerned that the lye and brine Dana uses to stop infection will hurt Alice worse, but he backs down when Dana shows him her own back where the whip scars are nearly healed.
Butler again describes the physical torture that slaves endured, bearing witness to the pain of this era despite how uncomfortable the violence of this scene may be. Dana has to hurt Alice even worse with lye and brine to keep her safe from potentially life-threatening infection later. Dog bites and whip lashes are not only terrible wounds, but open slaves up to a high risk of infection that could take their life even if they survive the initial beating. Dana has the advantage of 20th-century knowledge to tell Rufus that a small amount of extra pain now will save Alice later.
8. Dana does what she can to help Alice, realizing that most of the wounds are dog bites and whip lashes. Rufus is angry that the Patrollers did so much damage, but has no sympathy for Isaac, who has been sold to Mississippi. Dana asks if Rufus sent her letter and he replies yes. Dana doses Alice with modern sleeping pills in Rufus’s bed and hopes that Kevin comes soon. Dana is then shocked when Rufus climbs in bed with Alice, but Rufus promises not to touch her. Dana goes to bed in the attic, thinking that Rufus has been rewarded despite all the trouble he caused Alice and Isaac.
Rufus’s love for Alice again only goes so far. Now that Rufus owns Alice, he seems to have no thought for whether Alice will actually be happy to live with a man who raped her—especially when her husband has been tortured and sold into one of the worst areas for plantation slaves. While Rufus has compassion for Alice’s physical injuries, it is clear that he will not care about her emotional trauma after this experience.
Sarah comes in to the attic and asks about Alice. Sarah then tells Dana that the patrollers cut off Isaac’s ears. Dana is livid that Rufus’s crime of raping a woman has earned Isaac such a harsh punishment, but Sarah quiets Dana for fear that someone will hear. Sarah and Dana hope that Rufus will treat Alice kindly, and Sarah asks if Dana and Kevin are really married. Sarah says that Kevin got in trouble during Dana’s absence for treating whites and blacks the same. Sarah warns Dana to check with Nigel to see if Rufus really sent her letter. Before Sarah leaves, she reveals that she slept with her first white master, the father of Tom Weylin’s first wife, Hannah.
In the cultural atmosphere of the South in the early 1800s, Rufus can get away with any crimes against black people due to his white skin and status, while black people like Isaac suffer horrible punishments for trying to assert their freedom. Sarah can’t imagine a world in which white and black people are equal enough to be able to legally marry one another, as her experience has been only of men like Rufus taking advantage of women like Alice. Sarah also endured a similar situation, showing how common it was for female slaves to be sexually used or abused by their masters.
9. Dana asks Nigel about the letter the next day, but Nigel was on errands in town and only saw Rufus again once Rufus had bought Alice at the jail. Nigel doesn’t know how long a letter would take to reach Boston, though Nigel whispers that he wishes he could follow the letter North. The overseer Jake is not supposed to bother the house slaves, but Jake constantly threatens to put Nigel in the field. Nigel can’t run now because of Carrie.
Rufus does have some respect for Dana, allowing her to write a letter to Kevin in her own hand, but he doesn’t have enough compassion to keep his promise to actually deliver the letter. It seems that Rufus considers Dana his property now, just like Nigel, who can never leave the estate.
Dana goes up to the library to see Rufus and asks him how long it takes for a letter to reach Boston. Rufus warns Dana not to talk so familiarly to him in a place where people might overhear, but has no answer for her. Dana goes to check on Alice and decides to trust that Rufus sent the letter. Dana dresses the wounds and prays that infection will not take. Alice has regressed to childhood due to her wounds and is happy to sleep in the room with Rufus, her childhood friend. But as she heals, Alice comes back to herself. As she remembers more, Rufus begins to worry that Alice will start to hate him again.
Rufus’s warning not to talk too familiarly echoes his worries as a child that Dana would get in trouble if she didn’t call him “master.” Yet Rufus now seems to truly believe that Dana should be more deferential to him, instead of just worrying about the reactions of other people. Alice returns to the innocence of her own childhood, seeing Rufus as the playmate of her youth rather than the threat to her safety and humanity that he is now.
10. After three weeks, Alice heals more and asks to sleep with Dana in the attic. Alice goes with Dana down to the cookhouse, where they find out that Carrie is having her baby. Sarah rushes out to help with the birth, leaving Dana in charge of supper. Rufus has let Nigel earn money to buy things for a comfortable cabin next to the cookhouse, so Carrie will be able to have the baby on a bed. Dana sets Alice to peeling potatoes and starts on the chicken.
Alice’s request to sleep in the attic shows that she is wary of Rufus and what Rufus might do to her at night. Rufus again shows glimmers of kindness towards his slave, as when he let Nigel build a better house for his wife. But Nigel still had to work incredibly hard for this privilege, something that a white man would have taken for granted.
Cooking makes Alice think of her mother cooking for her husband, and Alice asks about Dana’s husband. Dana says her husband is up North. Alice is happy that Dana has married a free man and asks what it’s like to be a slave. Wary of the question, Dana tries to change the subject, but Alice persists and tells Dana she should run away. Dana tries to backtrack, but then Alice suddenly realizes that she too is now a Weylin slave. Dana gives up, agreeing to tell Alice everything she wants to know about her past. After a few minutes of remembering, Alice becomes hysterical when she recalls Isaac and his punishment. Dana calms her as best she can.
Alice assumes that Dana is married to a black man, because the thought of an interracial marriage is inconceivable in this time period. The unspoken irony of Alice’s question is that Dana has no better idea of what it’s like to be born a slave than Alice has. Dana and Alice are in a similar situation of falling into slavery as adults due to circumstances outside their control. Alice’s condition is far more traumatic, however, as there is little hope for her escape and almost no chance that Alice will ever see Isaac again, whereas Dana has some possibility of getting a letter to Kevin and returning to her own time.
Somehow, Dana manages to get the full supper finished and finds two young boys to bring the food to the table. Tess comes in to help as well, repaying a debt as Dana has done the washing lately since Tom has been abusing Tess at night. As the leftovers come back, Dana tries to get Alice to eat, but Alice won’t. Alice is horrified that she has been in Rufus’s bed after all the pain Rufus caused to her family. Dana tries to soothe Alice, but Alice accuses Dana of being white and shouts abuse at her. In the background, Dana can also hear the cries of Carrie’s new baby.
Dana takes over Sarah’s role in the house when Sarah is busy delivering her daughter’s baby, as the Weylins would never accept any excuse for their dinner not being ready. Though Dana works to help the other slaves as much as possible, some (like Alice in this moment) still see her as an outsider who doesn’t truly know the suffering that the others slaves face—as they aren’t favorites of Rufus or protected by Kevin. As Dana wrestles with her place living as a slave while waiting to go back to the present, Butler compares Dana’s situation to Carrie’s baby. Carrie’s baby is born into slavery with little hope of ever gaining freedom.
11. Carrie and Nigel name the baby Jude. Tom gives Nigel new clothes as a present, which Nigel accepts gratefully in front of the Weylins but grumbles about in the cookhouse. Tom is now richer because he owns Jude, and can splurge for a small present. Meanwhile, Tom is angry that Rufus has spent all his money on buying Alice, and tells Rufus that he should have been happy with Dana. Dana corners Rufus in the hall and demands to write another letter to Kevin. Tom overhears, and becomes angry that Rufus let Dana write a letter herself.
The birth of Jude, a biblical name meaning “praise,” shows that Carrie and Nigel still find joy in their lives even as they deal with the demeaning circumstances of slavery. Tom automatically owns any of Carrie’s children, making the small gift he gives Nigel almost a slap in the face. Tom also sees no difference between any black women, and assumes that Rufus was sleeping with Dana because Tom has no concept of any other possible relationship between white men and black women. Tom also doesn’t trust Dana to write a letter herself, perhaps suspecting that Dana would use her education for abolitionist or slave revolt purposes.
The next day, Rufus asks Dana to talk Alice into sleeping with him willingly. Dana refuses to help Rufus rape her again. Rufus gets angry and compares his love for Alice to Dana’s feelings for Kevin, then plays to Dana’s fears by suggesting that Kevin may have found a white woman for himself in the North. Kevin had been married to Dana for four years, but has now been in the Antebellum South for five – plenty of time to find a new wife, in Rufus’s eyes.
Rufus expects others to do his dirty work for him, and strikes at Dana’s most vulnerable places when he doesn’t get what he wants. Living in the pre-Civil War South has already made Dana question whether she and Kevin are right together, or if they should each find partners of their own race. Rufus hypocritically advances this argument even as he also claims that he loves Alice.
Dana remains neutral through Rufus’s insults, until Rufus threatens to have Jake beat Alice until Alice agrees to love him. Dana yells that Rufus doesn’t love Alice. Rufus yells back at Dana that he has treated her too well, making her think she’s white. Dana wonders what she’ll do if Rufus hits her, as Rufus towers over her. Finally, he backs down and mutters that he would cut his own throat if he ever wanted Dana the way that he wants Alice. Dana prays that problem never comes up. Rufus pleads with Dana to talk to Alice so that Rufus won’t have to beat Alice in order to rape her. Hoping to help Alice avoid more pain, Dana agrees.
Rufus’s idea of love contains only possessiveness and obsession, as he has no concept of respecting a woman’s agency or right to choose her own life and partner. He equates Dana’s self-confidence with being white, rather than seeing that all humans deserve to have their own voice. Dana’s worries that Rufus will hit her are less about the physical pain that Rufus could cause and more about Rufus using this abuse to assert his power. Yet in hoping to keep Alice from being beaten, Dana simply trades physical abuse for emotional abuse, as Alice would have to demean herself to sleep with Rufus.
The previous night in the attic, Alice had told Dana to write another letter to Kevin, but then viciously insulted Dana for loving a white man. Dana thinks that Alice is like Rufus, lashing out at others when she is hurt. Now, Dana finds Alice in Carrie’s cabin watching the babies and sewing. Alice has taken over the sewing from a slave named Liza, who now resents having to do harder work. Alice holds up a blue dress she sewed for Dana, then threatens to throw the dress in the fireplace when Dana tells Alice that Rufus wants Alice in his bed tonight. Dana tells Alice to do what she wants, but consider her options carefully. Alice can go to Rufus willingly, be whipped and raped, or run away.
Alice, like Dana’s uncle, sees Dana’s relationship with a white man as an offense to their race. As Alice does not know about Dana’s true home and time period, she only sees that Dana is in love with the man who oppresses her. Strangely, Alice and Rufus are similar in personality, just as Kevin and Dana are, though Alice and Rufus cannot use their similarities to build a healthy relationship when Rufus carries so much power over everything in Alice’s life. When Alice is in Rufus’s favor, she gets easy sewing work, but Rufus could easily make her life miserable.
Alice watches the children crawl around for a minute, then asks Dana what she should do. Dana tries to tell Alice that its her body and her decision, but Alice knows that her body belongs to Rufus. Alice darkly thinks about taking a knife into Rufus’s bed tonight, then yells at Dana for being a “mammy” who loves white men and helps the white master keep the slaves in check. Alice then cries, telling Dana that she is grateful that Dana saved her life. Alice decides that she will go to Rufus to avoid having to run away and get caught again.
Though Alice ostensibly gets to choose what happens to her body, her options are extremely limited by the fact that Rufus is her master. Alice is in the position to end Rufus’s tyranny, but refrains from doing so – like Sarah, who is passionately angry at the Weylin family but does not poison their food. Even if they were to escape or punish the Weylins, both women would face unavoidable repercussions from society at large.
12. Alice doesn’t kill Rufus in his sleep, but she seems to die a little after sharing his bed. Dana sends another letter to Kevin, but a month passes without a reply. Rufus is far happier, though he still hits Alice when he drinks. Rufus has also figured out that the way to control Dana is to threaten to hurt other people – just like Tom used Carrie to control Sarah. Dana now knows that she cannot depend on Rufus to help her go North to find Kevin.
Like Dana and Rufus, Alice and Rufus are also locked in a battle of wills with life-or-death stakes. Alice could choose to kill Rufus, but “dies” herself as Rufus continues to dominate and abuse her. Meanwhile Dana is almost powerless against Rufus because she doesn’t want anyone else to get hurt. Rufus uses Dana’s chosen family against her, knowing that Dana feels responsible for her slave family.
Dana wishes she still had her map, so she could plan to run on her own despite the dangers of the road. Finally, Alice brings Dana the letters she had written to Kevin with their seals broken. Rufus clearly never sent them. Dana packs her denim bag and prepares to leave. That night, Dana conspicuously goes to bed, then sneaks out with plans to head toward Easton. She creeps away from the Weylin house, sick to her stomach with fear.
Rufus has done everything he can to keep Dana dependent on his help and unable to escape on her own, both forcing her to burn her map and cutting of communication with the only person who has a chance of protecting her. Faced with the knowledge that Rufus is actively hindering her agency, Dana decides that the risks of running are less dangerous than the risks of staying submissive to Rufus.
Dana walks in the darkness, hiding from anyone she sees. She hits a dog with a stick, hoping that the dog will not alert its masters or its pack to her presence. As dawn approaches, she passes town and begins to think about a place to hide for the day. Two horsemen come slowly up the road and Dana hides again in the bushes. Dana startles when she realizes that the men are Rufus and Tom, and snaps a twig. Tom and Rufus hear the noise and stop. Rufus drives his horse into the exact bush that Dana is hidden in. Rufus grabs Dana and Tom kicks Dana in the face, knocking her unconscious.
Dana’s choice to leave carries significant physical risk to her safety. While the success stories of runaway slaves are more well-known in modern times, Rufus and Tom find Dana so quickly and easily that it almost seems inevitable that most runaways were caught. Indeed it was far more likely that runaways would be caught and punished than that they would reach safety in the North.
13. Dana wakes tied up on Rufus’ horse and missing two teeth in her jaw. She moans, and Rufus stops the horse. He scolds Dana for forcing him to treat her so roughly, wiping blood from her mouth and making Dana wince. Rufus unties her, but Dana’s feet are asleep and she can’t run. Rufus puts Dana in front of him on the saddle as Tom rides up, saying that Dana may be educated but she isn’t smart. Dana swallows her pride and leans against Rufus as the horse begins to move.
Rufus blames Dana herself for her pain, suggesting that her punishment is her fault for running rather than seeing how this situation is his fault for enslaving Dana in the first place. Rufus is again unable to experience love as anything other than possessiveness, thinking that Dana should be happy to be owned by someone who “only wants the best for her.” Tom too supports the idea that he and Rufus are only doing what is best for Dana, adding the insult that all of Dana’s education and knowledge about freedom did not actually help her reach safety. Dana may have the benefit of a modern education teaching her that running away is possible, but escaping slavery is not an easy task in reality.
As the horse nears the Weylin house, Rufus tells Dana that she’ll have to be whipped again. Dana nearly slides off the horse in her attempt to get away, but Rufus grabs her roughly and tells her not to struggle so it won’t hurt so badly. Dana fights, half-crazed, but Tom and Jake Edwards tie her to the barn wall and whip her. Dana wishes that she would be sent home, nearly driven insane by the pain, but she knows that Tom isn’t truly trying to kill her.
Butler details this harsh scene of punishment, bearing witness to the ever-present physical and mental pain that was an everyday part of slaves’ lives. Rufus again blames Dana for this abuse, suggesting that Dana is hurting herself by struggling—instead of recognizing that white society is the villain for creating an institution in which people can be whipped like animals.
When the whipping is finally over, Rufus carefully unties Dana and takes her into Carrie and Nigel’s cabin. Alice later tells Dana how Rufus insisted that all of Dana’s wounds be cleaned carefully. When Dana wakes, Alice is there with some of Dana’s aspirin. Dana cries, thinking how both she and Alice failed to run away. She worries that she will now be too frightened of another whipping to ever try to run again. Alice tenderly wipes Dana’s face as Dana tries to say that she will run again.
Rufus’s “kindness” after the beating fleshes out the complex emotions that Alice and Dana feel for him. He is not cruel for cruelty’s sake, and so cannot be exclusively hated, but he is fundamentally incapable of truly caring for anyone but himself. Dana now understands better why slaves like Sarah refuse to even consider running away, as she wonders if she herself will have the strength and bravery to risk another beating. The fear of the whip is almost as controlling as the whip itself.
14. Liza “fell” and hurt herself after Dana was caught, she learns, though Alice, Tess, and Carrie are also hiding scratches. Alice tells Dana that Liza was the one who betrayed Dana to Tom, out of misplaced anger at Alice for stealing Liza’s easy sewing job and fear of Tom. Alice and the other slaves made it very clear where Liza’s loyalty should lie.
The slaves on the Weylin plantation put great importance on sticking together apart from their masters. No matter how angry Liza was, she never should have betrayed a fellow slave. Yet the slaves also perpetuate violence by beating Liza for this offense, showing how pain permeates every aspect of the slave’s experience.
15. When Dana is well enough to get up, Rufus brings Dana a letter from Kevin. Tom wrote to Kevin on Dana’s behalf after finding out that Rufus never sent Dana’s letters. Dana tells Rufus that she knows her letters were never sent, making Rufus angry that Dana was snooping through his things. Dana is even more angry that Rufus lied to her, but Rufus shrinks and admits that he didn’t want Kevin to take Dana North, away from the Weylin house. Dana realizes that Rufus loves her too, in his selfish way.
Rufus is angry that Dana invaded his privacy, hypocritically unable to see how he has never respected Dana’s own autonomy and privacy. Rufus’s lies come from a fear of abandonment, which Dana understands and even has sympathy for. Dana continues to have some affection for Rufus, seeing that his upbringing is partly to blame for his lack of experience with true love or affection.
Dana may resent Rufus, but she can’t help but care for a him as well. Alice bears more straightforward hate for Rufus, but Dana knows that this hate won’t prevent Rufus from having his way with Alice and eventually having a child with her. Dana thinks that she would be driven crazy enough to kill Rufus if he ever tried to rape her. Alice and Rufus feel like siblings to Dana, even as she watches Rufus hurt Alice so that Dana’s ancestor Hagar can be born.
Dana’s affection for Rufus comes from both her familial bond and her role as Rufus’s guardian, which at times seems quasi-parental. Alice, on the other hand, sees Rufus only as an oppressor who has stolen her freedom. Dana knows that she too would be forced to hate Rufus if he ever crossed the line of bodily autonomy and failed to respect Dana’s choice not to take him as a lover. Yet Dana cannot help Alice escape from Rufus until she is sure that Hagar will be born and her family line will remain intact. Dana is thus forced to show more loyalty to Rufus than to Alice, because Rufus’s desires are the catalyst for Dana’s family’s entire existence.
Rufus tries to tell Dana that she should have waited instead of running away, but Dana reminds him that it was his own choice not to send the letters that drove her to run. Rufus finally agrees, admitting that he respects Tom for sending a letter to Kevin and keeping his word to a black person just as if they were white.
Just as Butler humanizes Rufus with his moments of regret for his actions, she also adds nuance to Tom’s character through his code of ethics. Tom considers a promise to a black person as binding as a promise to a white person, recognizing Dana’s basic humanity at least enough to keep Rufus’s word and send the letter.
The next day, Dana is sent back to work. She is supposed to help Sarah and Carrie, but Jake Edwards assigns her the laundry because Tess is going to the field. Jake isn’t supposed to dictate to the field hands, but losing an argument with Nigel has left him testy. Wary of Jake’s whip, Dana goes out to do the washing despite the pain in her back. Alice comes out and tells Dana to go back inside. Alice will do the washing, knowing that her relationship with Rufus means that Jake can’t touch her.
Jake lashes out at all the slaves when he feels that his authority is questioned, a sign of how insecure many white masters were about their power. Dana could stand up to Jake as Nigel did, but she chooses not to in order to keep the peace for the other slaves and to keep herself away from the whip. Meanwhile, Alice uses her advantage as Rufus’s mistress to do what she wants, helping Dana as Dana has helped her. Though Alice and Dana may fight bitterly, their bond is incredibly strong when either is in trouble.
As Dana heads back into the cookhouse, a white bearded man rides up to the main house. Dana opens her mouth to tell the visitor that the Weylins aren’t home, then realizes that the man is Kevin. Kevin leaps off the horse once he sees Dana and pulls her into a hug. Dana has to struggle away as her back is sore. Kevin holds her tenderly, asking if Tom beat her again. Dana is slow to answer, knowing that Kevin won’t be able to let it go. Kevin looks grimmer than Dana remembers, with his beard covering his mouth and a new scar on his forehead.
Dana and Kevin’s time apart has been enough to make them not immediately recognizable to each other. Kevin’s beard covers his face, showing how he is now a mystery to Dana, who doesn’t know what Kevin might have had to endure while living in the past, or how Kevin still feels about her. Kevin is also marked with a scar, showing that he too has been marked by a past pain that will always be with him.
Dana tells Kevin they should leave now while they have a chance, and then notices Alice looking on with a heartbreaking look on her face. Alice regains her tough composure and tells Kevin to leave with Dana as soon as possible. Dana scrambles up to the attic as quickly as she can to get her bag of emergency things, and then returns to Kevin at the Weylins’ gate. Dana yells goodbye to Alice as Alice beats a pair of Rufus’s pants clean. On the road, Dana can still hear Alice’s beating.
Dana and Kevin’s reunion is a cruel reminder to Alice that she will never again see her husband Isaac. Yet Alice is able to put aside her own pain in order to help Dana reach safety. As Dana leaves, Alice is stuck doing Rufus’s laundry, a symbol of how Rufus has kept Alice from freedom. This sound follows Dana, like her memories of all the slaves that she has to leave behind to keep herself safe.
The sounds of Alice doing laundry turn into the sound of hoof beats as Rufus rides up in front of Kevin. He asks Kevin and Dana to at least stay for dinner and say a proper goodbye to Tom. Dana cuts Kevin off before he can say anything terrible about Tom, and quietly says goodbye to Rufus. With no warning, Rufus whips up his rifle and aims it squarely at Kevin.
Kevin holds more venom toward the Weylins than Dana does, though Dana has actually suffered more at their hands—as Dana’s hatred is tempered with her family connection and obligation.
Dana realizes that she has underestimated how mean Rufus can be, but even now she is not afraid of Rufus the way she is afraid of Tom. With Rufus pointing the rifle at Kevin, Kevin and Dana get down from the horse. Rufus speaks soothingly, saying that his father will just want to settle up the cost of Dana’s keep and then let them go. Dana begins to wonder if she can convince Rufus to shoot her, hoping that the fear will send her home with Kevin, and screams at Rufus that she and the other slaves owe the Weylins nothing. Kevin tells Dana to just go back to the house, but Dana refuses. Rufus, on the verge of firing, shrieks that Dana can’t leave him. Scared, Dana dives behind the horse and loses her balance. As her vision goes blurry, something hits Dana hard in the back and she falls unconscious.
Rufus’s talk of Dana’s “keep” adds insult to injury, as Dana has worked hard the entire time she lived at the Weylin estate without pay. If anything, Rufus owes Dana and the other slaves far more than money. Furthermore, Rufus is clearly trying to manipulate Kevin and Dana into going back to the house so that he can keep Dana for himself and assuage his fears of abandonment by possessing her in some way. While Kevin seeks to protect Dana in the moment, Dana understands that some physical risk now is worth escaping the long-term danger of being Rufus’s property at the Weylin estate.