The Water Dancer

by

Ta-Nehisi Coates

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The Water Dancer: Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
For the first time in weeks, Hiram opens his eyes and sees daylight. He realizes that he has been washed and put in proper clothes, and wonders if he has finally escaped hell and reached his “reward.” However, his painful ankle convinces him he is still in the mortal world. He is lying in a bed, and Hawkins and Corrine are looking at him. Corrine welcomes Hiram and asks if he knows where he is. When Hiram tries to call her “Miss Corrine,” she tells him not to use “Miss.” She asks that he be totally honest with her. Hawkins apologizes that he had to experience the pit and the hunt.
Corrine and Hawkins’s involvement with the hunt is never made totally clear. It is not specified if they orchestrated it themselves (this seems unlikely), if they bided their time in order to find the right moment to save Hiram from it, or if they rescued him as soon as they found out he was there. Corrine’s apology could theoretically accommodate any of these possibilities.
Themes
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Corrine now explains that regardless of whether Hiram meant to, in killing Maynard he destroyed plans that had been a long tie in the making. She and Hawkins smoke a tobacco pipe, passing it back and forth between them. Corrine reflects that Hiam is a “scientist,” and adds that there is more genius to be found in the enslaved people of the country than “these Jeffersons, these Madisons, these Walkers.” She then notes that the “Conduction” which allowed Hiram to escape drowning in the Goose is the same power Santi Bess possessed, and that the story of her saving almost 50 people by taking them down into the water is true. Before Santi Bess, the Freetown where Georgie lives didn’t exist.
Corrine’s behavior in this passage immediately reveals that she is not what she seems. The fact that she is sharing a pipe with Hawkins, that she claims that enslaved people have more genius than whites, and that she knows about (and believes) the story of Santi Bess suggest that she is an ally to black people. Indeed, it is becoming clear that Corrine may secretly be an abolitionist.
Themes
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Hiram thinks about Georgie and wonders if his wife, Amber, knew about his betrayal. Corrine now hands him a document and explains that Hiram’s escape humiliated Howell, who sold him to Corrine. She then explains, “But you are not mine […] You are not a slave.” Instead of being joyous, Hiram feels confused. Corrine then explains that she and Hawkins work for the Underground. She knows that he had been trying to find it, but that going to Georgie was a mistake. Hiram asks where Sophia is, but Corrine indicates that they weren’t able to save her. Angrily, Hiram asks why they let him be imprisoned and hunted, and Corrine explains that they had to test to see if he had indeed inherited the power of Conduction.
It is understandable that Hiram is reluctant to trust Corrine despite being told that he is free and that she and the others work for the Underground. His lack of trust is even more understandable given the torture he has just endured. Corrine’s words indicate that while she may not have been responsible for setting up this torture, she deliberately decided not to intervene in order to test Hiram’s powers, which is a dynamic reminiscent of that between enslavers and the enslaved.
Themes
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Corrine continues that they suspected Hiram might have conducted himself back to Lockless, and had agents waiting to see if he showed up there. She says she will explain everything in time, and that although Hiram is no longer a slave, he “shall serve.”
This final passage emphasizes that although Corrine is an abolitionist, there are some creeping similarities between her mindset and that of an enslaver.
Themes
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
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