1. Dana comes to on the living room floor with Kevin crouched over her, and is overwhelmed by the knowledge that they are home. Kevin apologizes for falling on her back, but Dana is ecstatic to have him back. The two go to bed together, though Kevin is worried about hurting Dana more. Eventually, they fall asleep.
With Kevin back, Dana is able to relax at home in a way that she could not do when she was back in the present by herself. Reaffirming the emotional connection to her husband by having sex is more important to Dana than protecting herself physically.
Dana wakes up and hears Kevin in the kitchen, noticing that he now has a slight accent similar to Tom and Rufus’s speech. Dana heads in to the kitchen, overhearing Kevin mutter that he feels as though he still isn’t home. Dana remembers walking along the road to the Weylin estate and feeling relieved to be “home.” The house that Dana and Kevin have just moved to in 1976 is not yet familiar enough to feel like home, and Dana finds herself missing the sharpness and stark power of reality in the Antebellum South. Dana can’t imagine how much worse Kevin feels after 5 years alone in the past.
Kevin’s time in the past has clearly marked him. Dana’s comparison of Kevin to Tom and Rufus shows that she is worried that Kevin has adopted the Antebellum way of thinking along with his accent, and will no longer respect her as his equal partner. Their separation has also disrupted Dana’s sense that Kevin is her “home,” as she said earlier in the novel. A dangerous sense of distance has come between the couple that must be addressed if they ever want to fit into the present once more.
Dana joins Kevin in the living room, where he is fiddling with the knobs on the TV. Dana turns it on and an ad for pregnancy clinics starts to play. Kevin remembers seeing a woman die in childbirth and asks Dana to turn it off. Dana comments on the poor medical care for pregnant women in the past, but Kevin corrects her. This woman died because her master beat her child out of her. Kevin sighs that home just feels like another stop in his travels to Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Maine. Dana is very relieved to hear Kevin say that he still loves her, but Kevin goes on to say that the Weylin House is the only place that felt like home in the past five years.
Though their home in the present is not as difficult or demanding as their time in the past, Dana and Kevin also feel less connection to this place because they felt such a strong sense of belonging with the people in the past with whom they shared such suffering. Dana and Kevin feel an obligation to help those people and so define their home based on where their community is. Dana hopes that she and Kevin can rebuild their relationship enough to make each other their home once more.
Kevin explains that he grew his beard to hide his identity after being chased out of the South for allegedly helping slaves escape during the uproar of the rumored Denmark Vesey rebellion. He doesn’t want to talk about it more, but Dana has to clarify that Kevin really was helping slaves. Kevin angrily responds that he was a stop on the underground railroad—he’s defensive after living years in a place where that was a crime.
Dana feels obligated to make sure that Kevin continued to fight for abolition and equality even when he was surrounded by a society that promised him total impunity and immense power as a white male.
Kevin putters around his office, then angrily slams his fist on his typewriter. Dana recalls how she couldn’t write, and assures Kevin that he’ll be able to write again in time. Kevin sweeps his pencil sharpener and pencils off the desk and then storms out of the room. Dana runs after him and pleads with Kevin to be patient with himself coming home. Kevin’s pale eyes are cold, and his expression reminds Dana of Tom Weylin. Kevin goes into the bedroom, looking at a picture of himself as a younger man, then startles as a jet flies overhead. Dana attempts to comfort him, but Kevin asks to be left alone and goes back to his office.
Dana and Kevin each use writing as an outlet for their emotions, but their time in the past has been so complicated and traumatic that they cannot yet process it enough to write. Kevin’s anger at his sense of displacement and unease makes him lash out, as Tom did whenever he didn’t get his way. As much as Dana suffered in the past, Butler points out that living in an unbalanced state of privilege was not healthy for Kevin either.
Dana bathes and repacks her emergency bag with Excedrin and an old pocket knife to replace the knife she lost while trying to run away. She wonders if Kevin will ever be able to write again, and if he blames her for the years he lost in the past. In the kitchen, Dana notices that some chops of meat she had put out to defrost are still icy. Turning on the radio, Dana finds out that she has only been gone for a few hours. The news switches to a story about black resistance to white supremacists in South Africa, and Dana turns it off. She tries to cook dinner without thinking too much about the similarities between white South Africans and men like Tom Weylin.
Dana has become so used to accepting the blame for everything while living as a slave that she even wonders if it is her fault that Kevin got stranded – though Dana has no control over her travels through time. The news of South Africa, still in the midst of desegregation as black South Africans protest the inequality in the country, shows Dana how far the world still has to come in order to correct the damaging states of oppression and inequality.
Kevin comes into the kitchen and asks how long Dana has been gone this time. He brings a newspaper from his office with today’s date, frustrated that he has no idea what is going on in any of the articles. Dana reminds Kevin to slow down, but begins to feel dizzy. She yells at Kevin to get her emergency bag from the bedroom. Kevin presses the bag into Dana’s hands, as Dana prays that Kevin will not come with her this time.
Even though Kevin is disoriented and angry, he is still able to do what he can to provide for Dana’s safety by making sure she has her emergency bag of things that might help her stay alive in the past. Though Kevin’s presence was helpful to Dana in the past, it is more important that he stay away from that poisonous society and give Dana a safe home to come back to in the present.
2. Dana finds herself in a rain storm with the Weylin house in the distance. She can’t find Rufus, and begins to walk toward the house when she trips over Rufus lying face-down in the mud. Dana tries to drag him to the house but Rufus is too heavy. Dana goes to the door and gets Nigel, who comes outside and swings Rufus over his shoulder to carry him back to the house. In the hallway they run into Tom, looking older and thinner. Tom tells Nigel to take Rufus to his room to sober up and asks Dana to meet him in the library once she has changed into “decent” clothing.
Nigel and Tom show no surprise that Rufus has passed out drunk, showing that though Rufus may have gotten older since Dana last saw him, he has not matured. The constant concerns over Dana’s clothing show how misplaced the Weylins’ sense of propriety is. They have no trouble with the heinous act of owning other humans, but they balk at the sight of Dana wearing pants like a man.
In the library, Tom comments that Dana still looks young, though it has been six years since he last saw her. Dana tries to explain how her time runs differently, but Tom won’t hear it. Tom insults Dana’s intelligence when Dana tries to explain that she has been traveling through time, and Dana thinks to herself that she will never again let Tom beat her. Tom asks why Dana continues to help Rufus, and Dana answers that no one should die alone in a ditch choking on their own vomit. Tom tries to yell at Dana for this indecent language about his son, but runs out of breath. He simply says that the Weylin plantation will always be home for Dana as long as she keeps helping Rufus. Dana replies that she will help Rufus as long as she is never beaten again. Tom tells her to leave the library, as Dana thinks about the complete lack of rights she has in this time.
Tom has more concern about his son now than he did when Rufus was young, but there does not seem to be an increased level of affection in the family. If anything, Tom is worried that there will be no one to run the plantation after his own death if Rufus manages to actually get himself killed. Tom refuses to listen to Dana, and expects her to do his bidding without even a promise that she will not be beaten again. Dana is again confronted with her lack of power and agency in this time, as she has little choice but to stay on the Weylin plantation after learning how dangerous it is to try to run away.
3. Back in Rufus’s room, Rufus is shaking with fever, and Nigel says that Rufus has the ague, and that the doctor won’t be necessary. Dana tells Nigel to go dry off while she stays with Rufus, guilty that she has had more freedom in her life than Nigel will probably ever know. Dana then feels a mosquito bite her neck and remembers that the “ague” is another name for malaria. Dana asks Nigel if they have any mosquito netting, so that they can enclose Rufus and keep the disease from spreading. Nigel doesn’t listen until Dana reminds him that she is not from this time and has medical knowledge about ague that doctors of Nigel’s time don’t know.
As much as Dana hates her experience as a slave, she also recognizes that she is more privileged than people like Nigel who were born into slavery and have very little chance of ever living as a free black person. Dana’s modern medical knowledge again comes in handy as she attempts to stop Rufus’s malaria from spreading and potentially killing herself or some of the Weylin slaves. The slaves are far more vulnerable to disease, as they have less nutritious food and worse living quarters than their masters, so it is even more important that Dana keep Rufus quarantined behind nets.
Dana looks down at Rufus, thinking that he has fallen asleep, and wondering aloud why Rufus keeps trying to die. Rufus answers that living is too much trouble, and begins writhing in pain before he can say much more. Tom and Nigel come back in, and Dana asks Tom to send for the doctor. Tom refuses, telling Dana that it is her responsibility to keep Rufus alive at the risk of her own life.
Rufus struggles to give his life purpose, showing that living as a slave holder is detrimental to his health as well as causing the suffering of all the people he owns. Whereas Dana earlier took it upon herself to keep Rufus alive, Tom now places that burden on her in order to avoid the cost of the doctor. Tom’s selfishness constantly wins out over helping anyone else.
4. Nigel puts up the mosquito netting, telling Dana that Tom really is more afraid of her than he is of anyone. Dana has no idea how to help Rufus get well, so Nigel suggests that Sarah make the tea she usually makes to help ague. Sarah comes in with the tea, looking much older, and Dana goes to get the Excedrin from her bag in the attic. She narrowly rescues the pills from a small slave girl who was trying to open the bottle, thinking it was candy. Dana then takes all her medicines down to Rufus’s room for safe keeping.
The self-confidence that Dana has gained from her education and upbringing in a time where black people are at least assured basic rights gives her some power to stand up to Tom in a way that other slaves are not always able to do. Tom understands on some level that he cannot control Dana the way he attempts to control everyone else. Meanwhile, Dana has to again save Rufus to keep herself safe, this time wary of a punishment from Tom if Rufus worsens.
Dana comes back in the room to find Nigel asleep on the floor and Rufus thrashing in his bed. She dissolves three aspirin in water and has Nigel hold Rufus down while she forces Rufus to drink it. For the next six days, Dana gets little sleep as she tries to keep Rufus hydrated and fed while the illness runs its course.
Nigel is very loyal to Rufus, having grown up with him and treated him as a friend all his life. Dana and Nigel take care of Rufus like family, giving up their own comfort for his sake—though Rufus would never do the same for them.
Alice comes in a couple times, a bitter shell of the girl that Dana knew. Nigel tells Dana that the years of being with Rufus have caused the other slaves to resent Alice, and that Alice has had two babies die. Alice’s lone surviving child is a red-haired boy named Joe. Dana is disappointed that the child isn’t Hagar, so that she can finally be done with saving Rufus without worrying about cutting off her own family line.
Butler shows the many abuses that black women in particular had to deal with. Not only has Alice had to allow Rufus to rape her, but she is also scorned by other slaves, who only see that Alice gets to live in the house and do easier tasks because of her position as mistress. Alice also deals with the loss of her children, something that many slave women faced due to high rates of child mortality at the time and the fact that many enslaved women were treated as mere breeders with no regard for their health.
After eight days, Rufus finally feels well and Dana goes back to sleep in the attic. Yet she is woken that night by Alice telling her that Tom is having pains in his chest and needs healing. Dana guesses that Tom is having a heart attack, and knows there is nothing she can do to help, but she runs down to the parlor anyway. When she gets there, Tom is lying still on a couch. Dana can’t find a pulse, but tries mouth-to-mouth resuscitation despite her distaste for Tom. The CPR does no good, and Dana has to tell Rufus that Tom has died. Rufus blames Dana for letting his father die.
As Rufus believes that Dana’s modern medical knowledge is magic, he chooses to think that Dana willfully decided not to save his father rather than seeing that the heart attack was beyond Dana’s control. Dana does everything she can, even though she hates Tom, and receives no thanks for her effort.
5. Dana goes back to work with Sarah and Carrie, as Rufus completely ignores her. She is grateful for the chance to catch up with life on the Weylin estate. Nigel now has three sons, and Alice clearly loves her son Joe even though Joe is nearly white. Rufus still can’t help but lash out at people when he is in pain. The day of Tom’s funeral, Rufus sends the new overseer, Evan Fowler, to force Dana from the cookhouse into the field.
Rufus seems unable to reconcile the loss of his father with the strained relationship they had when Tom was alive, and he mourns his father even more because he never received his approval in life. In contrast, Nigel is a doting father to his sons, and Alice clearly loves Joe fiercely even if she hates how Joe was conceived. The slaves show true love for their families rather than the twisted and strained love of the Weylins.
Evan Fowler marches Dana to the cornfield, though Dana has never done field work before. Fowler has no sympathy and sends Dana into the corn row to cut stalks like the other slaves. Dana tries to chop one stalk and doesn’t manage to cut it all the way through. Fowler brings the whip down on Dana’s back, then again across her breasts when Dana whirls around in pain. Dana struggles to resist the urge to strike Fowler with her corn knife, and struggles through her pain to cut down two corn stalks.
Evan Fowler is one of only a few one-dimensional characters in the novel, displaying only cruelty and inhumane malice. He uses the whip even when there is no possible explanation for why Dana should deserve it, as Dana is clearly working as hard as she can. He has no respect for Dana’s humanity, beating her like an animal with no thought for the pain that she is experiencing.
Dana pushes herself to cut through the corn row as Fowler watches. The other slaves warn her not to go so fast, as Fowler will just expect her to go faster, but Dana is too wary of Fowler’s whip to risk slowing down. Yet after hours of work, it is less painful to let Fowler hit her than it is to continue lifting and striking with the corn knife. Eventually, Dana is so tired and numb from pain that she lays down in the dirt and passes out.
The whip again symbolizes the abuse that slaves faced every day, and the psychological trauma they experienced because of it. This horrific scene is just one day to a field hand, who would be worked in this cruel way every day of the year no matter the weather or their physical condition. As bad as this is, Dana knows that one day will not kill her, and so she is not sent back to the present.
6. Dana wakes to see a white face and hopes for a moment that it is Kevin, but it is only Rufus. Rufus helps her up, telling her that she should walk because it will hurt more if Rufus carries her. Dana makes it back to the house and struggles to pull water from the well and wash out her cuts. Dana then heads to Rufus’s room to get Excedrin. Rufus tries to talk to Dana about her “lesson,” but Dana shakes Excedrin into her hand and turns to leave. Rufus threatens to send her into the field again if she walks out, and Dana realizes that he is actually serious.
Despite the abuse Dana has just suffered at a white person’s hands, she is still capable of remembering that white people (like Kevin) can show love and mercy. Rufus, taking the place that Kevin has previously held, shows some mercy by getting Dana back to the house, but he has no concept of compassion for the pain that Dana has just endured. Rufus thinks only of forcing Dana to be obedient to his will, assuming that women (especially black women) owe him their submission.
Rufus’s face takes on an old expression of Tom’s, and Rufus screams at Dana never to leave him again. Dana stands still, then walks to Rufus’s desk and sits down. Rufus softens and Dana shamefully realizes that she is close to tears. She swallows three Excedrin as Rufus tries to make conversation. Dana explodes that she shouldn’t be punished for saving Rufus’s life and trying to save Tom’s. Rufus just asks for some medicine, making Dana get up and give him an Excedrin pill. Rufus then admits that he knows it wasn’t Dana’s fault that Tom died—he just wanted to make someone pay.
Rufus has an intense fear of abandonment, as his mother and father have now left him and he has never experienced a healthy relationship. Though Dana understands that Rufus is in pain after his father’s death, that grief does not excuse the immense harm that Rufus has done to Dana and continues to do to the other slaves now that he is the master of the estate. Dana doesn’t want to give Rufus the satisfaction of seeing her cry, keeping her emotions private as the last reserve of personal pride through everything she has endured.
Rufus then asks Dana to use her healing knowledge to help his mother, Margaret, who is finally coming home. Dana pleads with Rufus not to make her Margaret’s personal servant, especially after she hears that Margaret is now addicted to laudanum, but Rufus stands firm. Rufus then sends Dana out with directions not to work any more that day, as a feeble apology.
Many women in the Antebellum South were prescribed laudanum for “hysteria,” a disease that covered a range of symptoms when women were being unruly or “difficult” in some way. Rufus again ignores Dana’s wishes for her own life, yet his apology suggests that he still wants Dana to like him, despite how unfairly he treats her.
7. Margaret is far older and far nicer to the slaves now that she has the laudanum. She asks Dana to read the Bible to her and trusts only Dana with all her household concerns. Dana begins to steal moments for herself when all of Margaret’s chatter gets to be too much, but has to admit that this work is easier than anything else in the house and it gives her back time to heal.
The “easiest” work for a slave was to be a personal servant to a white man or woman, a job that was made bearable or unbearable based on the temperament of one’s master. Margaret may treat Dana kindly now, but Dana still has to submit all of her time to Margaret and her whims.
Alice pulls Dana into her cabin one day and scolds Dana for being so agreeable to Margaret and Rufus after just half a day in the field. Dana leaves and goes into the cookhouse where two field hands are worrying over the possibility that they’ll be sold. The slaves go quiet when they see Dana, and Dana turns back out. Afterwards, Dana wonders why she was so submissive when she could have explained that she’s not really loyal to Rufus and Margaret.
Alice wants Dana to keep resisting her life as a slave, even when it is far easier to simply be obedient. Dana’s close association with Rufus and Margaret has led the other slaves to believe that she is more loyal to the white Weylins than to her fellow slaves. Dana’s guilt for how comparatively easy her life is keeps her from standing up to the field hands.
Dana hears Margaret thumping her cane to call her into the house, so she turns to the woods for a moment alone. Several people come riding up through the woods and Dana hides in the bushes to let them pass. A white man is leading slaves in chains, and Dana realizes that the field hands were worried about being sold immediately to this trader now coming down the road. Dana creeps back to the house and sees Tess being added to the line of sold slaves. Dana tries to say goodbye, but the slave trader points his gun at her. From the door, Rufus yells at Dana to get away from there. Dana hisses that Rufus might as well sell her too.
Dana knows that Rufus will never sell her, as his worst fear is that Dana will leave him. Yet seeing Tess sold is another harsh reminder that no slave is truly in control of their own life. The slave traders do not care at all about any slave’s emotional attachment to their house, friends, or family. Where Rufus sees this sale as a simple transfer of property necessary to pay bills, Dana sees how traumatic this moment is for Tess, who has to leave her home, and the other slaves, who have to say goodbye to one of their family.
8. Dana tries to head back upstairs, running into Carrie in the hall. Carrie brings Dana out to her cabin and signs that she told Margaret that Dana was sick. Dana rails against Rufus for selling slaves like his father did. Carrie signs that everyone will be sold if Margaret is allowed to continue running the plantation. Dana sobs that she feels guilty for saving Rufus only to have him act cruelly by selling families apart, and that she understands why some of the slaves think that Dana is too “white.” Carrie rubs her fingers down Dana’s face, but Dana doesn’t understand. Carrie brings Dana to Nigel, who translates. Carrie means that Dana will always be black because of her skin, no matter what people say about her.
Carrie again shows great thoughtfulness by telling Margaret that Dana is sick so that Dana has time to process the sale that she just witnessed. Carrie also understands the larger picture of the Weylin slaves’ lives. Dana has to keep Rufus safe so that he can keep running the Weylin plantation and keep as many of the slaves together as possible. If Rufus dies, or if Dana lets him die, the slaves will all be sold with no thought for family bonds. Carrie also makes sure that Dana knows that she is accepted because her skin color will always mark her in this society—there is a community formed by shared oppression and injustice.
9. Dana avoids Rufus for three days after the sale, until Rufus comes to find Dana in Margaret’s room. Rufus asks Dana to come to the library with a modern pen. Once there, Rufus explains that the doctor said he had dengue fever and should have been bled to get all the poisons out. Dana mutters that then all their problems would be solved. Rufus tries to threaten Dana, but is too weak. Rufus motions Dana to sit down and begins telling her that all the slaves will be sold if he does die. They trade a few more threats, until Rufus stops and asks Dana to write letters for him.
Rufus always looks for the easy way out, as when he asks Dana for a modern pen instead of dealing with the tricky ink pens of his time. He also looks for the easy way out when Dana blames him for Tess’s sale, blaming his fever and his debts for this choice. Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne illness that would actually be made much worse by bleeding, but Rufus maintains his time period’s standards of medical care just as he holds to the practice of selling people. Each of these customs are obviously harmful, but Rufus is too blind to see that Dana is trying to show him a better way of life.
Rufus needs to answer letters from creditors and traders, a task he hopes that Dana will do for him. Dana hates the thought of writing for Rufus, but softens when Rufus offers her more paper to do her own writing when she is done. Furthermore, writing letters to persuade creditors to forgive Tom’s debts is the only way to keep more people from being sold.
Dana has always tried to avoid using writing to copy down other people’s thoughts, as when she refused to type out Kevin’s manuscripts. She compromises her strong feelings about keeping writing as a sacred act of self-expression in order to gain the materials to write for herself and potentially help keep more families intact among the Weylin slaves.
10. Dana reads a few of Rufus’s letters to pick up the nineteenth century style, and then writes the letters as best she can, hoping none of her modern mannerisms will offend the creditors. Margaret is bitter that Rufus now has Dana split her time between these duties and caring for Margaret. One night, Rufus returns from a dinner drunk and finds Alice and Dana eating together in Dana’s cabin. He comments that the two of them really are “only one woman.” Dana is confused, but Alice clarifies that Rufus likes Alice in bed and Dana for all other wifely tasks—and this is compounded by the fact that Alice and Dana look so similar.
Dana cannot be herself in these letters, yet the work still allows Dana to use more of her talent and education than she’s been able to previously. Margaret refuses to see that Dana has valuable skills to help run the estate and selfishly mourns the loss of her personal servant. Meanwhile, Rufus seems to see both Alice and Dana as two halves of a wife, with Alice providing the romantic component and Dana supplying the work partnership and companionship. Yet Rufus does not respect either woman as he should, making this relationship far more unhealthy and detrimental than Dana and Kevin’s marriage.
11. Alice is pregnant again and Dana hopes that this child will be Hagar. She begins to keep a journal in secretarial shorthand to keep herself sane and relieve her boredom. Dana even attends a corn husking party to distract herself. The slaves pass around a bottle of fiercely strong whiskey and shuck the corn, then Rufus comes out to greet his slaves with a huge meal and receive their praise. Dana notes how the slaves seem to like Rufus even as they also feel contempt for and fear of him—unlike the overseer, who is universally hated and feared so that the master doesn’t have to get his hands dirty.
Dana uses writing as an outlet of self-expression, being very careful that no one will be able to understand her journals. This writing is for herself alone, and a huge symbol of the mental freedom that Dana fights to maintain even when she is a slave. Dana has an outsider’s perspective on the master-slave relationship, seeing how there is a familial aspect to how the slaves feel for Rufus even as they also hate how he oppresses them. Because they live on the Weylin plantation, the slaves seem to feel some belonging with the Weylin family. This is made possible by the presence of an overseer who handles discipline so that the master can retain the appearance of love and care for his slaves.
After the party people begin to couple off, and Dana misses Kevin. Rufus comes over and asks if Dana has found anyone to “jump the broom” with. Dana is surprised, and knows that Rufus would have serious consequences for any man who made him jealous by giving Dana attention. Dana ignores a tall slave man who has been trying to catch her eye at the party, and tells Rufus that she already has one husband who is enough for her.
Rufus knows that Dana is married, but seems to think very little of her marriage to Kevin, just as most white people do not respect the informal marriages that slaves make together. Dana stays faithful to Kevin, both out of love for her husband and careful consideration for the other slaves who would have to pay for Rufus’s jealousy. Telling Rufus that one husband is enough is also a subtle warning that Dana does not want to sleep with Rufus.
As Alice advances in her pregnancy, Rufus gets surlier. Dana is grateful that Alice creates another job for her that keeps her out of Rufus’s way: teaching Joe to read. Dana finds that Joe is very bright, even if he has Rufus’s quick temper when he feels like he doesn’t understand something. Rufus even begins to take an interest in Joe, helping the young boy decipher a map in his library. Dana compliments Joe, and Rufus confides that Alice has asked him to free Joe. Rufus says he will do it on the condition that Alice shows that she loves him.
Rufus’s lack of interest in Joe seems to come from both his own father’s example of disengaged parenting and the feeling that Joe is not truly his son because Joe is half black. Dana helps Rufus see that Joe is worthy of Rufus’s attention and even has much in common with his father—yet Rufus does not seem bothered that his own flesh and blood is still a slave. He uses the same emotional manipulation that his father used on Sarah, leveraging the well-being of Alice’s children for Alice’s complete loyalty.
In a private conversation with Alice, Dana learns that Alice would rather try to run again with Joe than continue to live under Rufus’s thumb, even with a newborn baby. Dana agrees to help by getting Alice a bottle of Margaret’s laudanum to keep the baby quiet on the road, but cautions Alice to carefully consider the consequences running could have for her and her children.
Alice knows intimately the cost of running away, as she has already endured that punishment once when she ran with Isaac. However, Alice decides that her love for her children means that she must make this sacrifice in order to give her children the chance of growing up in freedom.
12. Alice’s baby is a girl, with far darker skin than Joe. Rufus is sweet to Alice after the birth, not realizing the significance of Alice naming her children Joseph and Hagar – Biblical slaves who achieve their freedom. Dana nearly cries with relief now that her ancestor Hagar has been born. With the danger of cutting off her family line over, Dana feels free to consider ways to get herself out of the danger of slavery. Alice too refocuses on freedom, demanding the laudanum from Dana so that she can run with the baby. Dana again suggests patience, but Alice refuses to wait to turn into “a white-person lover” like Dana.
Alice may be happy that her daughter looks like her, but darker skin is more dangerous for mixed race children. Joe’s light skin gives him a small chance of passing for white, whereas Hagar’s dark skin means that she will always be treated as a slave. Yet Hagar is also Dana’s ticket out of slavery, as Dana can now run away from the Weylin estate for good—Rufus may well die, but Dana does not have to care because her family line is already in motion. Alice too wants to run away, unable to imagine a future in which white and black people can coexist in equality. To Alice, loving a white person will always mean submission and oppression.
Dana tries to leverage her help against Alice treating her with more kindness, but Alice knows that Dana will help her out of guilt no matter how much Alice insults Dana. Dana gets the laudanum, but also asks Rufus if he is going to free Joe. Rufus says yes, but Alice won’t believe it unless she sees the actual freedom certificate.
Dana retains significant guilt for both the fact that Alice has to be Rufus’s mistress and that Dana has experienced freedom in the present and has a home where she will likely return soon. Alice is right to take her freedom and that of her children into her own hands. Rufus has already shown himself to be untrustworthy, of course.
13. Dana manages to convince Alice to wait until early summer to run, and convinces herself not to do anything dangerous to send herself home. To fill her time, Dana gets Rufus to let her teach Nigel’s sons along with Joe, though Rufus’s neighbors caution Rufus on the dangers of educating slaves. Rufus seems happier, and Dana wonders if Alice is really treating him with kindness and starting to genuinely like Rufus. The feelings developing between Rufus and Alice seem to be the very thing driving Alice to run.
Dana does not send herself home right away because she still feels obligated to help Alice and the other Weylin slaves as much as possible. Though she may no longer care about Rufus, Dana still feels a sense of kinship with her fellow slaves. One way to do her duty for her slave family is to teach Nigel’s children to read and give them a shot at improving their lives once they are emancipated. Alice desperately searches for freedom because she sees herself becoming twisted to Rufus’s will the more she comes to like him. Alice has to risk running away in order to reassert her independence.
One day, the field hand that noticed Dana at the corn husking party stops Dana at the cookhouse and introduces himself as Sam Jones. Sarah had already warned Sam not to pursue Dana and invite Rufus’s anger, but Sam wants Dana to teach his siblings to read. Sam questions why Dana “lets” Rufus have so much sway with her, but Dana fires back that the field hands too “let” Evan Fowler abuse them – both house slaves and field hands have to do distasteful things to stay alive and whole. Sam is impressed with Dana’s spirit, but Dana is careful to keep the interaction short and innocent.
Butler presents the lives of slaves in the house and in the field as a series of choices. Rather than leaving the slaves as completely powerless to their master’s will, Butler explains that all slaves are simply making the rational choice to be obedient to their masters in order to avoid greater pain. In Dana’s case, giving Rufus some obedience allows her to have some room to teach other slaves to read and hopefully give the next generation the tools to better their lives. Yet Dana still has to compromise her own desires to protect this small benefit, as when she cuts short her conversation with Sam to keep Rufus from getting jealous.
Though Dana was careful, Sam is sold away three days later. Rufus had not said anything to Dana about the conversation, and doesn’t even warn Dana that Sam will be sold. Dana rushes out of Margaret’s room when she sees Sam being herded into a slave trader’s coffle (a line of chained slaves) out the window, and pleads with Rufus not to do this. Rufus says nothing. Sam’s younger sister wails in the yard, then catches sight of Dana and hurls insults at her for getting Sam in trouble. Rufus steps between the two women, and Dana uses the opportunity to ask Rufus again not to sell Sam. Rufus strikes Dana hard across the face.
Rufus cuts Dana off from any attention except his own, expressing his “love” for Dana by trying to own her completely. Yet rather than blaming Rufus for causing all of this pain, Sam’s sister directs her rage Dana. From her perspective, white people are expected to cause anguish in black families, so black people then have the obligation to help protect each other. Dana does everything she can to help Sam, but Rufus is completely insensitive to both Dana’s wishes and the cruelty of separating Sam from his family. This action cements Rufus’s change from someone Dana might be able to teach to be a good person, to a man of his time who cares nothing for the humanity of his slaves.
After Rufus hits Dana, she knows that the basic trust between them has been destroyed. Dana goes to the cookhouse, against Rufus’s orders, and heats up a bath of water. She takes the basin up to the attic, washes her knife in antiseptic, then crawls into the tub and slits her wrists.
When Rufus sells Sam and hits Dana, he takes away any possibility that Dana has control over her own life at the Weylin plantation. Without that assurance, Dana knows that death would be better than actually living as Rufus’s slave. She is thus willing to risk the chance that cutting her wrists will actually kill her instead of just sending her to the present.