The Water Dancer

by

Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Howell Walker Character Analysis

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 son, Maynard; his wife is dead by the time the narrative opens. Howell was attached to Rose and deluded himself into believing she loved him, even though—because he was her captor—he was actually her rapist. When Rose ran away, Howell’s delusion was shattered, and in punishment, he sold her. In his old age, Howell appears to soften a little, although he never takes substantial action to right his wrongs. He often expresses his regret to Hiram and confesses that he is not a good person.

Howell Walker Quotes in The Water Dancer

The The Water Dancer quotes below are all either spoken by Howell Walker or refer to Howell Walker. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the One World edition of The Water Dancer published in 2019.
Chapter 2 Quotes

“They ain’t your family, boy. I am more your mother standing right here now than that white man on that horse is your father.”

Related Characters: Thena (speaker), Hiram Walker, Howell Walker, Maynard Walker, Boss Harlan
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Water Dancer LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Water Dancer PDF

Howell Walker Character Timeline in The Water Dancer

The timeline below shows where the character Howell Walker appears in The Water Dancer. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
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Hiram’s father, Howell Walker, is the master of Lockless. When Hiram occasionally sees him riding through the plantation... (full context)
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...The elders are delighted by the performance, but Hiram is distracted by the arrival of Howell, who takes something from his hat and throws it toward his son. Hiram catches it... (full context)
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...that the white people aren’t his family, and that she is more his mother than Howell will ever be his father. (full context)
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...with awe, feeling that the house belongs to him, that it is “[his] by blood.” Howell’s butler, Roscoe, leads Hiram and Thena down to the space in the basement where Hiram... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...being sent to Natchez. Four months after Hiram (now 13) started working in the house, Howell hosts a celebration to celebrate the fall harvest. He listens to Ella, the head cook,... (full context)
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...bored of pretending to be civilized and to slip back into this kind of behavior. Howell turns to Hiram, telling Alice that they “have something better than any Negro song.” Hiram... (full context)
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...to rise again to prepare breakfast for the guests. In the morning, Hiram runs into Howell, who smiles at him. Behind him, Maynard sits at a writing desk, accompanied by Mr.... (full context)
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...As he completes the drawing, Mr. Fields is astonished, and walks out of the room. Howell comes in and asks if Hiram would like to work for Mr. Fields. After another... (full context)
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...prefers to teach him than Maynard, who is unintelligent and rude, constantly embarrassing himself and Howell in front of company. He remembers Thena’s insistence that Howell is not his “family,” but... (full context)
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...after he first starts studying with Mr. Fields, Hiram goes to his lesson to find Howell there, saying, “It’s time.” He explains that he’s long recognized that Hiram had a “particular... (full context)
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...to when Hiram is 19, the day before the “fateful race-day.” He is standing in Howell’s study, reading a journal. He thinks about Maynard, who drinks too much, gambles, gets into... (full context)
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Howell, meanwhile, has managed to find hope in the form of Corrine Quinn, “perhaps the wealthiest... (full context)
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Hiram listens to Howell and Maynard discuss a local white man who recently went outside in a blizzard and... (full context)
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...the races taking place the next day. He is determined to prove himself, even though Howell suggests that it might be best for him not to go at all. Maynard leaves,... (full context)
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Howell also tells Hiram how terrible it has been to watch “[his] people” be taken off... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...who does not seem to task, though this is because she “belong[s]” to Nathaniel Walker, Howell’s brother. Every weekend Hiram drives Sophia to Nathaniel’s house, then picks her up to bring... (full context)
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Thinking of Howell’s insistence that Hiram take care of Maynard, Hiram tries to lead them home, but Maynard... (full context)
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...him he won’t. As Hiram drives them home, he becomes convinced that as soon as Howell dies, Maynard will sell him, and he will end up in Natchez. At this point... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...in the water, still trying to save Maynard, who is drowning. When he next awakes, Howell is standing before him, sobbing. Howell tells Hiram that Maynard is dead, squeezing Hiram’s shoulder... (full context)
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After speaking with Howell, Hiram finds Sophia talking to Thena, who greets him gruffly. He embraces Thena, and although... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Hiram goes to the shed where Howell keeps furniture in need of restoration and gets to work on a mahogany highboy. Thena... (full context)
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Thena observes that Howell’s family members are “flattering” him regarding Maynard because they want to inherit his land when... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...his “days at Lockless [are] numbered.” Approving of the job Hiram did on the highboy, Howell sets him to work restoring more pieces of furniture. The documents of sale that accompany... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...over Lockless and thinks about the unknown adventure lying before him. He speaks briefly with Howell, who has assigned him to start working in the kitchen starting the next day, and... (full context)
Chapter 12
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...about his betrayal. Corrine now hands him a document and explains that Hiram’s escape humiliated Howell, who sold him to Corrine. She then explains, “But you are not mine […] You... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...and that there are black people dressed in more luxury than he’d ever seen on Howell. They arrive at a house where Bland and Hawkins are already waiting, drinking coffee with... (full context)
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...quiet. She gives him a piece of gingerbread even though she is making it for Howell, explaining, “Family got to watch out for each other […] And furthermost, as I see... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...Hiram an apology. Raymond then admits that he knows where Sophia is: Lockless. Corrine persuaded Howell to take Sophia back. The Underground has not gone to rescue her yet because of... (full context)
Chapter 26
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 27
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 28
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...recognize any of the small number of enslaved workers laboring in the field. Hiram sees Howell sitting on the porch. He greets him politely and Howell embraces him, crying, repeating the... (full context)
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Howell asks how Hiram is finding it at Corrine’s, then adds that, seeing as Roscoe was... (full context)
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...because older enslaved people are the cheapest to buy. Hiram serves dinner and then joins Howell for a drink in his study. He then goes to his old room, which is... (full context)
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Hiram gathers a few possessions from his old room, including the coin. Then he dresses Howell in his nightclothes and puts him to bed. The next day, Hiram brings Corrine, Amy,... (full context)
Chapter 29
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Winter comes, bringing a solemn atmosphere. Occasionally Howell’s friends will visit, and they will discuss the old days. The person Howell sees most... (full context)
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Howell confesses that he is not a “good man,” saying Hiram knows this most of all... (full context)
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While Hiram is taking Howell up to bed, Howell says, “I got plans for you, boy.” He then begs Hiram... (full context)
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After serving Howell dinner, Hiram goes out to the Street to find Sophia. When she sees him she... (full context)
Chapter 30
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...gives Hiram Caroline to hold, and he takes her in his arms. He thinks about Howell never held him like this, and how he always wanted him to. Caroline provides hope... (full context)
Chapter 31
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...bringing a great number of servants as well as guests with her. This greatly cheers Howell. Hiram knows that in reality, all the servants as well as the guests are actually... (full context)
Chapter 33
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The next morning, after serving Howell breakfast, Hiram goes up to Howell’s study and writes a brief, coded letter to the... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
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...gripped by the full memory of his mother. This knowledge makes him want to murder Howell immediately. Instead of doing so, he tucks the necklace under his shirt and walks into... (full context)
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Ryland caught Rose and Hiram and brought them to the jail. Howell came to the jail looking “pained,” and asked Rose why she ran. He then grew... (full context)
Chapter 34
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)