The Water Dancer

by

Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Thena Character Analysis

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 live with her as a child, he realizes that she is not really mean, just heartbroken by the pain of losing her husband, Big John, to a fever, and having her children be sold. Thena is a tough woman who does not show a great deal of outward emotional affection, yet who is extremely caring and loyal deep down. She takes Hiram in as a surrogate son even though it is painful for her to do so after her own children were taken away. When Hiram reunites with one of Thena’s daughters, Kessiah, he arranges a reunion between Kessiah and her mother. Thena initially reacts to this with horror, but later explains that this is because she is afraid of the pain that will resurface if she sees Kessiah again. Thena eventually agrees to let Hiram conduct her to Philadelphia, where she spends the rest of her life living with Kessiah in freedom.

Thena Quotes in The Water Dancer

The The Water Dancer quotes below are all either spoken by Thena or refer to Thena. 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:
Chapter 33 Quotes

“What will I say to her, Hi? What will I be? What will I do when I look at her and all I can see are my lost ones?”

Related Characters: Thena (speaker), Hiram Walker, Kessiah
Page Number: 391
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Water Dancer LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Water Dancer PDF

Thena Character Timeline in The Water Dancer

The timeline below shows where the character Thena appears in The Water Dancer. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
...he is about to die, Hiram thinks about his loved ones at Lockless: the elderly Thena and the young Sophia. He feels calm, convinced that he is “going to [his] reward.”... (full context)
Chapter 2
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
...given for the week, then gathers his clothes and marbles—his only possessions—and walks over to Thena’s cabin. Although most people on the Street are sociable, Thena “ke[eps] to herself.” Nowadays she... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Now those children are gone. Hiram is unsure if showing up at Thena’s house is a good idea, as there are others who are more likely to want... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
It takes a year and a half of living with Thena for Hiram to understand the source of her pain. One night he hears her talking... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
At the end of the workday, Hiram does not at first go back to Thena’s cabin. Then, when he does go, realizes that she has been waiting for him 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
Thena reminds Hiram that all the wealth of Lockless comes from the tobacco fields. John was... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Thena then says that five of her own children were sold at the racetrack, too. She... (full context)
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
...catches it one-handed. Howell, who is smiling, nods at Hiram and walks away. Back in Thena’s cabin, Hiram permits himself to look at the object, and sees that it is a... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...day, after dinner, Hiram peeks down from the loft to see Boss Harlan speaking with Thena. After he leaves, Thena tells Hiram that his life is about to “get more brutal,”... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...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 will sleep. When Roscoe takes him... (full context)
Chapter 3
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...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 also cannot help but fantasize that he... (full context)
Chapter 5
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
After speaking with Howell, Hiram finds Sophia talking to Thena, who greets him gruffly. He embraces Thena, and although she walks away from the hug... (full context)
Chapter 6
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
...been in the field. Feeling faint, he closes his eyes and opens them to see Thena there. She ushers him back to the house, telling him he needs to get rest.... (full context)
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
...Howell keeps furniture in need of restoration and gets to work on a mahogany highboy. Thena sees him and tries to order him back to bed, but Hiram ignores her. Working... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Thena observes that Howell’s family members are “flattering” him regarding Maynard because they want to inherit... (full context)
Broken Families Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Hiram and Sophia discuss Thena, and Sophia observes that she’s been “soft” with Hiram, which is surprising. Hiram feels full... (full context)
Chapter 8
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...and Sophia spend a while in silent contemplation. Then Sophia leaves and Hiram runs into Thena. He suddenly feels very different from Thena and the other older people at Lockless, who... (full context)
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...In the morning he passes Pete, seeing him for the last time ever. He watches Thena doing laundry, and feels angry and indignant toward her. He watches the sun rise over... (full context)
Chapter 20
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...Lockless and that Rose used to leave Hiram with her to look after. She is Thena’s daughter. She and Hiram walk together, and she recalls happy memories of growing up with... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
...felt. Everything changed when Big John came down with a fever and died. At least Thena and her children could comfort each other, but when they were separated even that solace... (full context)
Chapter 27
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...husband but is grateful that he understands that this is her nature. Hiram mentions bringing Thena up from Virginia. He feels he owes it to her after how she took care... (full context)
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
...him. However, he resolves that he never wants to “breathe free air” while Sophia and Thena are still enslaved. he knows he will need to persuade Corrine to help free them,... (full context)
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Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Taking Sophia will be dangerous because she is Nathaniel’s prized possession, while Thena will also be tricky, because the Underground prefers to save younger people. When Hiram goes... (full context)
Chapter 28
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...then goes to his old room, which is just as he left it. He hears Thena humming, but when he approaches her, she ignores him. He apologizes to her, saying that... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
...the afternoon, Hiram goes down to the Street, which has “fallen into disrepair.” According to Thena, Sophia is living in the cabin that Hiram and Thena used to share. When Hiram... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Later that evening, Hiram expresses his hurt that Thena didn’t tell him about Caroline. He’s realized that Sophia would have been pregnant when she... (full context)
Chapter 29
Broken Families Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
For some people, the bad fortune of Lockless represents an opportunity. Thena has started hiring herself out for laundry work, which will allow her to eventually buy... (full context)
Chapter 30
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Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
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Hiram, Thena, Sophia, and Carrie are the only enslaved people at Lockless who are not in danger... (full context)
Chapter 31
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
...brings him immense joy. He spends his nights with Sophia, theoretically keeping this secret from Thena, until she reveals she knows by telling him she is happy for him. However, more... (full context)
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...tells her his entire plan in full. When they get back to Lockless, they find Thena with a bandage around her head. When they ask what happened, she says she doesn’t... (full context)
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Although enslavers are known to steal from the enslaved, the way that Thena’s house has been smashed up proves that the culprits are themselves enslaved. Following the attack,... (full context)
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Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
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...of the grounds. While they are alone, he tells her it is time to conduct Thena and Sophia to the North. He explains about the attack on Thena’s house, and mentions... (full context)
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Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...to them, challenging their belief in their own goodness. Hiram demands that both Sophia and Thena be liberated immediately, but Corrine says there is already a plan in place, from which... (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
...Hiram realizes that he will have to tell the full truth to both Sophia and Thena. He tells Sophia first, while Thena is sleeping. After filling her in on everything that... (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
The next day, Sophia pretends that Caroline is ill so that Thena and Hiram will get time alone together while doing the laundry. While they are working,... (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 the Philadelphia Underground. He informs Harriet that he is going to try and get Thena and Sophia out using Conduction. Hiram then helps Howell with his own correspondence and waits... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...Hiram says he knows that he’s going to try to stop him freeing Sophia and Thena, but that he won’t succeed. Hawkins offers Hiram a cigar and talks about the profound... (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
...is “free and must act according to [his] own sense.” The next Sunday, Hiram and Thena load the crates of laundry together in silence. Eventually, Thena begins to cry, and begins... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Hiram knows they cannot wait much longer to get Sophia and Thena out. He waits two weeks for a response from Harriet, but doesn’t receive one, and... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Hiram then turns to Thena, and says he is about to tell her something that he has never told 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
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...and he is lost in a swirl of visions. A green light appears, and when Thena asks what’s happening, a voice replies, “It is Conduction, friend. It is the old ways,... (full context)
Chapter 34
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
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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... (full context)