The Water Dancer

by

Ta-Nehisi Coates

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The Water Dancer: Chapter 34 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Hiram wakes up in an unfamiliar bed. Trying to get up, he falls to the floor. Hawkins appears, and helps him up. He explains that Sophia found Hiram outside her cabin yesterday morning, shivering with fever, and sent word to Corrine for help. It is a good thing that he is there, because Howell knows about Thena’s disappearance and is suspicious. By the evening, Hiram is feeling better and goes down to see Corrine, who is in the common room at the Starfall Inn. Corrine says that she “doesn’t like” what Hiram did, and that she needs to be able to know the minds of her agents. Hiram points out how this sounds, and Corrine smiles. 
As the reader may have noticed, this is the last of several moments when Hiram wakes up in an unfamiliar bed, unsure of what happened to him. Each of these occasions can be seen as a kind of rebirth, a miraculous self-resurrection. Meanwhile, when speaking to Corrine Hiram is able to subtly point to the continuity between Corrine’s way of thinking and that of an enslaver. She appears to concede that this might be true.
Themes
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Corrine asks if Hiram will conduct Sophia, too, and he indicates that he will if he needs to. Corrine replies that in that case, she will make sure there is no need. Over a year passes before Hiram realizes what she means. Howell dies in the fall, with Lockless deeply in debt. However, before his death, Corrine arranges to buy it all and make it her property. Lockless therefore ends up becoming like Bryceton: an old Virginia planation on the surface, but in reality, a station of the Underground. All of the enslaved people who remain are whisked off to freedom in the North, and agents take their places. Although Corrine is officially the owner, Hiram assumes control as the true “lord of the manor.” 
Somewhat unusually for a novel about slavery, The Water Dancer has a rather triumphant, happy ending. Some readers may interpret this as a misleading representation of life under slavery, which—despite very rare moments of victory and respite—was generally a series of horrors without end. At the same time, the novel’s ending isn’t perfect for Hiram, either. He does not escape to freedom in the North, but rather remains in the dangers of the South, tirelessly working to secure freedom for others.
Themes
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Two days after Hiram conducts Thena to freedom, Hiram deliberately shows Howell that he has the necklace, wanting him to know that he hasn’t forgotten what happened when Howell sold Rose. He then goes back to the cabin to reunite with Sophia and Carrie. That night, in the middle of the night, Sophia asks Hiram, “What are we now?” Hiram replies that they are the same as ever: “Underground.” 
The final passage of the novel suggests that being “Underground” is about more than just the Railroad—it is a state of being defined by the surreptitious seizing of love and freedom, and the ongoing fight for justice. 
Themes
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon