The Water Dancer

by

Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Moses/Harriet Tubman Character Analysis

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 all members of the Underground. She is from Maryland, where her free parents Ma Rit and Pop Ross still live. During the narrative, she and Hiram go on a mission to liberate Harriet’s siblings Ben, Henry, and Robert, as well as Henry’s wife Jane, from slavery. Harriet was born into slavery but was inspired by a childhood friend named Abe to rebel and seek freedom. Like Hiram, she possesses the power of Conduction, an ability to magically travel across distances in a short amount of time using the power of memory.

Moses/Harriet Tubman Quotes in The Water Dancer

The The Water Dancer quotes below are all either spoken by Moses/Harriet Tubman or refer to Moses/Harriet Tubman. 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 23 Quotes

“We forgot nothing, you and I,” Harriet said. “To forget is to truly slave. To forget is to die.” […] “To remember, friend,” she said. “For memory is the chariot, and memory is the way, and memory is bridge from the curse of slavery to the boon of freedom.”

Related Characters: Moses/Harriet Tubman (speaker), Hiram Walker
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:

“It’s just like dancing. Stay with the sound, stay with the story and you will be fine.”

Related Characters: Moses/Harriet Tubman (speaker), Hiram Walker
Related Symbols: Water Dancing
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Water Dancer LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Water Dancer PDF

Moses/Harriet Tubman Character Timeline in The Water Dancer

The timeline below shows where the character Moses/Harriet Tubman appears in The Water Dancer. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 13
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
...She is “beloved and famed” all over the North and has been granted the nickname Moses. Although those in the Virginia Underground know that she is capable of Conduction, they don’t... (full context)
Chapter 17
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...doesn’t know asks if he knows who she was, and then tells him it was Moses. (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Moses has other nicknames, including The General, The Night, and the Vanisher. She is the “living... (full context)
Chapter 18
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Hiram asks why Moses isn’t going down South to save Lydia, considering she has greater control over her Conduction,... (full context)
Chapter 19
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
That night, Hiram realizes that he will need to talk to Moses if he is ever going to be able to properly understand—and gain control over—Conduction. The... (full context)
Chapter 20
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...working on the official, legal fight to end slavery. During their journey to New York, Moses joins them. Seeing her, Hiram is so awed that he can barely speak. Raymond calls... (full context)
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...However, their plans fell through when they were both taken to be sold at auction. Moses saved Kessiah, and she has been travelling with her ever since. This is how she... (full context)
Chapter 21
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...to Hiram’s life. In the evening on the second day of the convention, Hiram sees Moses sitting on a rock. She greets him, and he goes to join her. Moses says... (full context)
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Moses then says she keeps her methods secret, and that the rumors about her powers don’t... (full context)
Broken Families Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...the sad news. Hiram takes the papers back to Raymond, who is now sitting near Harriet and Corrine. Hiram rests for a while, and when he wakes up Otha is sitting... (full context)
Chapter 23
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...to his old routine. He starts to see Kessiah regularly. At the beginning of October, Harriet asks to meet with him. When Hiram tells her that he is not coping well... (full context)
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Hiram and Harriet then discuss their upcoming mission in Maryland. She needs passes for two people, then a... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Two weeks later, Hiram meets Harriet in the middle of the night. Harriet looks out over the river and says, “For... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Harriet remarks that Hiram never knew Abe, but will know him now, through Conduction. She recalls... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Harriet is now burning with powerful green light, and Hiram cannot see the water anymore. After... (full context)
Chapter 24
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
...Hiram knows they might not be safe out in the field, so he picks up Harriet and runs into the woods with her. He finds a safe place to leave her... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
They walk through the woods until they see a cabin in the distance, which Harriet calls “our place.” She says it would be best to answer any questions Hiram has... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Harriet likens Conduction to the ability to see bridges between islands that others can’t, and to... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
...and he can’t predict when it will happen or where it will take him. However, Harriet points out that every time Hiram has experienced Conduction it has involved water. Hiram is... (full context)
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Harriet and Hiram go into the cabin; there are enslaved people waiting inside. Harriet introduces Hiram... (full context)
Chapter 25
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Harriet’s parents are free, even though their children are enslaved. Robert says he can’t see his... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...Jane leading Pop Ross by the arms. Everyone walks into the water but Pop Ross. Harriet kisses him, and the green light of Conduction erupts, illuminating Pop Ross’s tears. Harriet dedicates... (full context)
Chapter 26
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
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... (full context)
Chapter 33
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...to Howell’s study and writes a brief, coded letter to the Philadelphia Underground. He informs Harriet that he is going to try and get Thena and Sophia out using Conduction. Hiram... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...longer to get Sophia and Thena out. He waits two weeks for a response from Harriet, but doesn’t receive one, and thus knows he must press on alone. He arranges to... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...replies, “It is Conduction, friend. It is the old ways, which shall and do remain.” Harriet is now there, apologizing for the delay. They arrive in Philadelphia, and Kessiah is there,... (full context)