Lockless is the plantation where Hiram was born and grows up, and it is a symbol of captivity, injustice, and the ways in which slavery distorts one’s sense of family and home. The name “Lockless” is, of course, ironic: as a plantation where enslaved people are held captive, Lockless is a kind of prison. Yet the name also points to the way in which slavery is so pervasive that it is often literally lock-less, in the sense that actual cages, locks, and chains are not (normally) used to keep enslaved people in their place. Escape is so difficult and dangerous that physical restraints aren’t usually necessary. Lockless is Hiram’s “home” in the sense that it is the place where he was born and where his family lives; for a long time it is the only place he has ever known. The community of enslaved people who live at Lockless (on a part of the property called the Street) are a kind of extended family. Furthermore, Hiram’s father, Howell Walker, is the owner of the property—yet because he was born to an enslaved mother, Hiram inherits slave status and will not inherit any of Howell’s property. (Indeed, Hiram himself is Howell’s property.) As a boy and young man, Hiram is tormented by a fantasy of being named as the “rightful heir” of Lockless. This injustice is made even more pronounced by the fact that the property’s actual heir, Hiram’s half-brother Maynard, is a vulgar and incompetent fool whom everyone predicts will not be able to manage to the estate properly. Yet in a poignant twist, Hiram does end up becoming a kind of “heir” to Lockless, and he uses the property as a station on the Underground Railroad. By the end of the novel, Lockless ends up living up to the literal meaning of its name, transforming from a symbol of imprisonment to a site of justice and freedom.
Lockless Quotes in The Water Dancer
It occurred to me then that even my own intelligence was unexceptional, for you could not set eyes anywhere on Lockless and not see the genius in its makers—genius in the hands that carved out the columns of the portico, genius in the songs that evoked, even in the whites, the deepest of joys and sorrows, genius in the men who made the fiddle strings whine and trill at their dances, genius in the bouquet of flavors served up from the kitchen, genius in all our lost, genius in Big John. Genius in my mother.
I imagined that my own quality might someday be recognized and then, perhaps, I, one who understood the workings of the house, the workings of the field, and the span of the larger world, might be deemed the true heir, the rightful heir, of Lockless. With this broad knowledge I would make the fields bloom again, and in that way save us all from the auctions and separation, from a descent into the darkness of Natchez, which was the coffin, which was all that awaited, I knew, under the rule of Maynard.