The Water Dancer

by

Ta-Nehisi Coates

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The Water Dancer: Chapter 27 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Before going back into the coffin, Hiram goes to see Kessiah. She asks how he is doing, and he replies, “Lotta feelings.” Kessiah concurs, saying it is difficult to deal with everyone coming. She finds it hard to constantly leave her husband but is grateful that he understands that this is her nature. Hiram mentions bringing Thena up from Virginia. He feels he owes it to her after how she took care of him at Lockless. He promises, “I will get her out.” Kessiah says she would love to see Thena but will not let herself get her hopes up. Letting go of her mother was painful that it will be difficult to entertain the idea of seeing her again.
Like Sophia, Thena is a “modern” woman who craves independence despite the fact that she loves her husband. Indeed, the novel shows that through work for the Underground Railroad, female characters like Harriet, Kessiah, Corrine, and Amy can overcome the restrictions placed on them due to their gender and pursue the kind of independent life available to few women during this era.
Themes
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
The next morning, Hiram dresses in the style of enslaved people in Philadelphia. Just as he is about to set off, Mars comes running toward him, carrying a bag. Inside is a piece of gingerbread and a bottle of rum. Mars says, “Remember […] Family.” Hiram’s train pulls in. A white Underground agent, there to protect Hiram, is waiting onboard. Moving through the country, the presence of slavery weighs heavy on him. However, he resolves that he never wants to “breathe free air” while Sophia and Thena are still enslaved. he knows he will need to persuade Corrine to help free them, which may be a challenge without Bland.
Through his work in the Underground, Hiram is now connected to a vast network of people across the country. The support and love he receives from characters like Raymond, Otha, Harriet, Kessiah, and Mars empowers him and convinces him that his freedom means little if the people he loves remain enslaved.
Themes
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Taking Sophia will be dangerous because she is Nathaniel’s prized possession, while Thena will also be tricky, because the Underground prefers to save younger people. When Hiram goes to meet Corrine and Hawkins, Corrine says that in killing Maynard, Hiram saved her from a terrible marriage, but ruined years of planning. Now that she is “condemned to spinsterhood,” she will never secure the power she would have had as a married woman. She then informs Hiram that Roscoe has died, and that Howell wants Hiram to come and take his place. She asks Hiram if he will go to Howell to gather information, and to her surprise, he immediately says yes—on the condition that she help liberate Sophia and Thena.
The way in which Corrine talks about Maynard’s death with Hiram shows how manipulative she can be. She flatters Hiram by thanking him for saving her from a terrible marriage, while also making him feel like he is indebted to her because he inadvertently destroyed her plans. This contradictory combination is a classic tactic of emotional manipulation, betraying Corrine’s desire to gain control over Hiram.
Themes
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Corrine and Hawkins are initially highly reluctant, but Hiram insists, and Corrine eventually agrees. The next day, Hiram dons his tasking clothes while Corrine dresses in her mourning outfit. They drive through the town and past the racetrack, and when Hiram asks about race-day Corrine comments that it’s not happening this year and may never happen again. They park the horses and go into an inn. As soon as they are inside, Corrine exchanges coded words with the clerk, and Hawkins and two low white men immediately lock the door and draw the blinds. To his astonishment, Hiram realizes that Corrine is operating an Underground station right where he stands. 
Corrine is a complicated figure within the novel. In many ways she is presented as admirable and impressive due to her boldness, ingenuity, and vision. At the same time, she seems to possess issues with control. She wants to operate the Underground entirely according to her plans and resents when other people interfere with these plans. This obviously not a good strategy for collaboration and indicates that she is primarily motivated by her own ego. 
Themes
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
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Over the ensuing hour, several meetings take place. Hiram learns that Freetown has been all but totally destroyed. He walks over and finds Georgie’s house burned to the ground; any furniture that remains has been smashed up. He finds bits of pottery and broken pair of glasses. In the corner, Hiram sees the toy horse he carved for Georgie’s baby. Feeling a deep sense of shame, he puts the horse in his pocket.
The shame Hiram feels in this passage is understandable, even if the actions taken against Georgie can be justified by the fact that they stopped him betraying more enslaved people. The fact that Hiram feels guilty shows that his humanity remains intact in a way Georgie’s wasn’t.
Themes
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon