The Water Dancer

by

Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Santi Bess Character Analysis

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 the River Goose, theoretically descending with them into the water and reemerging in Africa. Although Hiram doubts the veracity of this story at the beginning of the novel, by the end it is confirmed that it really happened.

Santi Bess Quotes in The Water Dancer

The The Water Dancer quotes below are all either spoken by Santi Bess or refer to Santi Bess. 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 6 Quotes

At every gathering there was this dispute about my mother’s mother, Santi Bess, and her fate. The myth held that she had executed the largest escape of tasking folk—forty-eight souls—ever recorded in the annals of Elm County. And it was not simply that they had escaped but where they’d been said to escape to—Africa. It was said that Santi had simply led them down to the river Goose, walked in, and reemerged on the other side of the sea.

Related Characters: Hiram Walker (speaker), Santi Bess
Related Symbols: The River Goose
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Water Dancer LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Water Dancer PDF

Santi Bess Character Timeline in The Water Dancer

The timeline below shows where the character Santi Bess appears in The Water Dancer. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
...Back at the bonfire, Conway’s sister Kat is sharing a story about how Hiram’s grandmother, Santi Bess , walked into the Goose, taking 48 enslaved people with her. Georgie dismisses the story... (full context)
Chapter 12
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
...the “Conduction” which allowed Hiram to escape drowning in the Goose is the same power Santi Bess possessed, and that the story of her saving almost 50 people by taking them down... (full context)
Chapter 24
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
...before going there, because there likely won’t be time after. Hiram says that his grandmother, Santi Bess , was “a pure-blood African” with a talent for storytelling. One day, Bess told Rose... (full context)
Chapter 32
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
...the Christmas when the big group sat around the fire and discussed the story of Santi Bess . He squeezes the wooden horse in his pocket while he is talking. Immediately, Sophia... (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
Hiram says that Santi Bess didn’t walk into the water—she danced into it. He says he’s learned that the “deeper”... (full context)