The Water Dancer

by

Ta-Nehisi Coates

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The Water Dancer: Chapter 26 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
They arrive back in Philadelphia early the next morning. Henry and Robert help support an exhausted Harriet, and Hiram leads the way to a storehouse where Otha and Kessiah are waiting. Seeing Kessiah, Hiram suddenly realizes that she is his family, a connection back to Virginia and to Rose. He realizes that his old fantasies about inheriting Lockless and seeing Howell as his “savior” meant that he had been forgetting Rose. After all he has been through, he is now a better person. Kessiah embraces him and he starts crying, then realizes everyone around him is also holding each other and crying.
As is probably clear, this is a very important turning point for Hiram. Throughout the novel, he has struggled with feelings of resentment and alienation from his white family members and a secret desire to claim the attachment to them that he believes is rightfully his. Now he realizes that this suppressed allegiance has actually led to an internal emotional betrayal of Rose. 
Themes
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Back at the house, the group eat a large breakfast just as the sun is coming up. Robert admits that he feels a duty to go back for Mary, and Hiram says he will speak to Harriet about it, considering it was him who promised to get her in the first place. The new arrivals are advised to stay inside, as there will be Hounds prowling the city looking for them. Raymond hands Hiram a letter from the Virginia station while saying that Hiram no longer owes them anything. Yet Hiram feels that he is now bound to the Underground permanently.
When Hiram was first conscripted into the Underground, there were aspects of the experience that were reminiscent of slavery. However, now he has come to the point where he has actively chosen to be an agent because being in the Underground is what gives his life meaning. This is another highly important turning point for him.
Themes
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Later, Hiram tells Harriet that he is going back to Virginia, and Harriet warns him not to “let them pull [him] into their schemings.” She tells him to write to Kessiah if he ever needs support, because Kessiah and Harriet stick close together. The next day, Hiram wakes up to find Otha, Raymond, and Kessiah talking excitedly at the table. Otha explains that they think they’ve found a way to get Lydia and the children out. McKiernan wants to sell them; they have communicated with him through an intermediary. 
The determination of the Philadelphia Underground to rescue Lydia and the children is moving. It emphasizes the point Otha made to Hiram at the convention: that there is no choice but to keep fighting and insist on success as the only option.
Themes
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Kessiah hands Hiram a book called The Kidnapped and the Ransomed, which contains the story of Otha’s flight from slavery. Raymond says that Otha and some others will sell the book around the North, raising money to buy Lydia and the kids. Otha says he regrets having to pay, but at this point he’ll do whatever it takes. Hiram notes that he is leaving soon. He tries to explain how being in Philadelphia has changed him but cannot find the words. Otha hugs him and says, “We know.” 
The tactic of selling testimony by enslaved people to abolitionists as a way of raising money was a real and important part of the work of the Underground Railroad. This is yet another form of power held by such testimonies, which had significant historical, social, and even financial value. 
Themes
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
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