The Water Dancer

by

Ta-Nehisi Coates

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The Water Dancer Characters

Hiram Walker

Hiram is the main character and narrator of the novel. Born into slavery on Lockless plantation, Hiram is the son of Rose, an enslaved woman, and Howell Walker, his mother’s enslaver, and thus… read analysis of Hiram Walker

Sophia

Sophia is a young woman enslaved by Nathaniel Walker at Lockless. Nathaniel regularly rapes her and eventually fathers her baby, Caroline. Sophia was born and raised in Carolina, where she was in a… read analysis of Sophia

Thena

Thena is an old woman who lives at Lockless and has a reputation for being the meanest person on the Street (the area of the plantation where the enslaved people live). After Hiram goes to… read analysis of Thena

Rose

Rose was Hiram’s mother and the daughter of Santi Bess. She was beautiful, and all the men at Lockless were in love with her. She and her sister, Emma, would water dance… read analysis of Rose

Corrine Quinn

Corrine Quinn is a white woman from Elm County who owns a property named Bryceton not far from Lockless. An only child, Corrine inherited her parent’s property and vast fortune when they died. At… read analysis of Corrine Quinn
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Howell Walker

Howell is Hiram’s father and also his enslaver. During the main section of the narrative he is already quite old (around 70) and dies at the end of the novel. Howell’s marriage produced one… read analysis of Howell Walker

Maynard Walker

Maynard is Hiram’s half-brother and Howell’s only “legitimate” child, making him the heir to Lockless. As a teenager, Maynard is childlike, helpless, and foolish, and he remains so after becoming an adult… read analysis of Maynard Walker

Mr. Fields/Micajah Bland

Micajah Bland, who is first introduced via his fake identity as Mr. Fields, is a white Underground agent who infiltrates Lockless by working as Maynard’s tutor. Once Mr. Fields witnesses Hiram’s intelligence and… read analysis of Mr. Fields/Micajah Bland

Moses/Harriet Tubman

Harriet, who for much of the novel is known by her nickname, Moses, is based on the real figure of Harriet Tubman. A legendary, fearless agent of the Underground Railroad, Harriet is deeply respected by… read analysis of Moses/Harriet Tubman

Raymond White

Raymond White is an Underground agent who lives in Philadelphia. Born into slavery, both his parents escaped the plantation and ended up reuniting in Philadelphia. Raymond was separated from his brother, Otha, as a… read analysis of Raymond White

Otha White

Otha is Raymond’s brother; like Raymond, he was born into slavery. When Otha was a child, his mother, Viola, fled with both him and his brother, Lambert. However, her first escape attempt… read analysis of Otha White

Santi Bess

Santi Bess was Hiram’s grandmother and Rose’s mother. She was a “pure-blood African” who possessed the ability of Conduction. According to legend, she led 48 enslaved people to freedom from Lockless through… read analysis of Santi Bess

Georgie Parks

Georgie Parks is a widely-respected free black man who lives near Lockless in Freetown. Formerly enslaved, he bought his freedom and married a woman named Amber, with whom he has one baby son. Hiramread analysis of Georgie Parks
Minor Characters
Emma
Emma was Rose’s sister and Hiram’s aunt. She and Rose would water dance together. When tobacco prices started falling, Emma was one of the first enslaved people sold South from Lockless.
Nathaniel Walker
Nathaniel Walker is Howell’s brother. He is Sophia’s enslaver and regularly rapes her, although he cannot bring himself to have her live on his property and thus makes her live at Lockless and travel to his property on weekends. He is the biological father of Caroline.
Boss Harlan
Boss Harlan is the white overseer at Lockless.
Kessiah
Thena and Big John’s daughter. Kessiah, along with her siblings, was separated from Thena and sold as a child. However, after a reunion facilitated by Hiram, Kessiah is able to live freely with Thena in Philadelphia.
Big John
Big John was Thena’s husband and Kessiah’s father. He died of a fever.
Roscoe
Roscoe is Howell’s butler. He dies while Hiram is living in Philadelphia.
Ella
Ella is the head cook at Lockless until she is sold.
Pete
Pete is an enslaved man at Lockless until he is sold.
Alice Caulley
Alice Caulley is a cruel, vulgar white woman who is friends with Howell and comes to Lockless for a party he hosts.
Amber Parks
Amber is Georgie’s wife.
Mercury
Mercury was Sophia’s former partner back in Carolina.
Hawkins
Hawkins is a black Underground agent who poses as Corrine’s servant.
Amy
Amy is Hawkins’s sister. She is also an Underground agent.
Helen
Helen was Nathaniel’s wife. She and Sophia were best friends in childhood; when they grew up, Sophia worked as Helen’s maid. Sophia says she loved Helen deeply, and the fact that Helen died in childbirth fills her with guilt and sorrow.
Ryland
Ryland is a slavecatcher in Elm County who oversees Ryland’s Jail in Elm County, where runaway slaves are imprisoned. Other slavecatchers are referred to as “Ryland’s Hounds” within the novel.
Old Man
While in Ryland’s Jail, Hiram shares a cell with unnamed old man who is beaten and humiliated by the guards. He dies, seemingly from the abuse inflicted upon him.
Parnel Johns
Parnel Johns is an enslaved man who is the first person Hiram liberates while working for the Underground.
Lucy
Lucy is Parnel Johns’s lover, although he pretends that she is his daughter. She escapes with Johns when he is liberated by the Underground.
Mars
Mars is a baker in Philadelphia who is extremely friendly, kind, and generous to Hiram.
Hannah
Hannah is Mars’s wife.
Mary Bronson
Mary Bronson is an enslaved woman whom Hiram and the White brothers help liberate in Philadelphia.
Octavius
Octavius is Mary Bronson’s young son.
Viola White
Viola is Raymond and Otha’s mother.
Lambert
Lambert was Raymond and Otha’s brother. He died before being able to escape slavery and was thus never reunited with the free members of his family.
Lydia White
Lydia is Otha’s wife. She and their two children are enslaved in Alabama. She is rescued by Bland, only to be caught and re-enslaved. The reader never learns her final fate, although Otha remains determined to free her at all costs.
Laura
Laura is Bland’s sister. She lives in Philadelphia.
Daniel McKiernan
McKiernan is the enslaver of Lydia and her children.
Elon Simpson
Simpson is a member of Philadelphia high society who secretly does business with enslavers.
Chalmers
Chalmers is Elon Simpson’s servant.
Abe
Abe was a rebellious young enslaved boy whom Harriet knew as a child. She credits him with inspiring her to fight for freedom.
Ben
Ben is Harriet’s brother.
Henry
Henry is Harriet’s brother.
Jane
Jane is Henry’s wife, and Harriet’s sister-in-law.
Robert
Robert is Harriet’s brother, and Mary’s partner.
Mary
Mary is Robert’s partner.
Ma Rit
Ma Rit is Harriet’s mother.
Pop Ross
Pop Ross is Harriet’s father.
John Tubman
John Tubman is Harriet’s husband.
Caroline
Caroline is Sophia’s baby daughter. She is the biological daughter of Nathaniel (making her Hiram’s cousin), but Hiram assumes the role of her father.