The Water Dancer


Ta-Nehisi Coates

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The Water Dancer: Chapter 25 Summary & Analysis

Harriet’s parents are free, even though their children are enslaved. Robert says he can’t see his mother, Ma Rit, because she isn’t good at hiding her emotions, to the point that it would put them in danger. This is why Harriet, who escaped 10 years ago, still hasn’t been back to see her. Robert whistles, and his father, Pop Ross, comes out of the house. Harriet and the rest of the group are waiting inside a nearby stable. She embraces Robert tightly. They wait for Ma Rit to go to sleep, and when Pop Ross comes out to speak to them, he is wearing a blindfolded. This way, he can honestly say no if someone asks him if he’s seen them.
This passage explores yet another harrowing way in which slavery separated family members. Even those lucky enough to successfully escape could rarely inform their family members of their victory, as this would endanger everyone involved. In securing freedom, Harriet and her siblings are forced to abandon their parents.
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The group walk out to the pond, with Henry and Jane leading Pop Ross by the arms. Everyone walks into the water but Pop Ross. Harriet kisses him, and the green light of Conduction erupts, illuminating Pop Ross’s tears. Harriet dedicates the journey to John Tubman, Pop Ross, and Ma Rit. She continues to talk about her life almost like a preacher delivering a sermon, and the others concur in a call-and-response pattern. She talks about meeting John, the only man she has ever loved, and about moving North. She concludes, “May you find a love that love you, even in these shackled times,” and the others respond, “That’s the word.”
Harriet’s statement about finding love even in “these shackled times” conveys a central message of the novel. Although nothing could redeem enslaved people from the brutalities they suffered, the fact that they managed to sustain loving relationships in the midst of violence, rape, and forced separations is testament to the humanity of those who endured the agonies of slavery.
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