The Water Dancer

by

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Water Dancer can help.
“The Task” refers to the institution of slavery as well as specific units of slave labor. Accordingly, enslaved people are categorized as “the Tasked.”

Tasked Quotes in The Water Dancer

The The Water Dancer quotes below are all either spoken by Tasked or refer to Tasked. For each quote, you can also see the other terms 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:
Chapter 14 Quotes

The Task was a trap. Even Georgie was trapped. And so who was Corrine Quinn to judge such a man? Who was I, who’d run with no higher purpose save my own passions and my own skin? Now I understood the Underground war. It was not the ancient and honorable kind.

Related Characters: Hiram Walker (speaker), Corrine Quinn, Georgie Parks
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 24 Quotes

“We can’t ever have nothing pure,” Robert said. “It’s always out of sorts. Them stories with their knights and maidens, none of that for us. We don’t get it pure. We don’t get nothing clean.”

“Yeah,” I said. “But neither do they. It is quite a thing, a messy dirty thing, to put your own son, your own daughter, to the Task. Way I see it, ain’t no pure and it is we who are blessed, for we know this.”

Related Characters: Hiram Walker (speaker), Robert (speaker)
Page Number: 293
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Water Dancer LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Water Dancer PDF

Tasked Term Timeline in The Water Dancer

The timeline below shows where the term Tasked 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
...a sense of peace, knowing that there really is a world that lies beyond “the Task.” However, he is then brought back to the mortal world by Maynard’s screams. Maynard disappears,... (full context)
Chapter 2
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
...the cabin he used to share with Rose and waits on the steps until the Task begins for the day. He is now 11 and rather small, but still has to... (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...young, he is only just beginning to understand the distinction between the Quality and the Tasked, and dreams about the life of “splendor and regale” that the Quality lead. (full context)
Chapter 3
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...chained to Maynard, who is only a baby and doesn’t notice the presence of the Tasked. Everyone disappears but Hiram and Maynard, then Maynard and the field dissolve too, and the... (full context)
Chapter 4
Broken Families Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
Sophia is a young woman who does not seem to task, though this is because she “belong[s]” to Nathaniel Walker, Howell’s brother. Every weekend Hiram drives... (full context)
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...the hands of the Quality just so they can in turn oppress and degrade the Tasked. Hiram, meanwhile, goes to join the black people, some of whom are enslaved and some... (full context)
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...thinks that although she doesn’t love him now, she might “in a world beyond the Task.” Given the state of Virginia, it would no longer be possible for Hiram to buy... (full context)
Chapter 6
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
...black people who remember him from childhood and who knew Rose. On Christmas Day, the Tasked divide themselves so that half work on preparing a feast for the white people, and... (full context)
Chapter 11
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
...assigned to work for Maynard. Maynard asked Hiram to gather together a large group of Tasked; he then told them that they were due to race each other for Maynard’s entertainment.... (full context)
Chapter 14
Broken Families Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...many others before him. She wants to frame him for betrayal—not a betrayal of the Tasked, but of his Taskmasters. As punishment, he will be killed or re-enslaved, his family brutally... (full context)
Chapter 15
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...not have a separate car for black people. This is because “The Quality [keep] their Tasked ones close the way a lady keeps her clutch, closer even.” The journey takes two... (full context)
Chapter 24
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
...sees two low whites going out for a hunt, and a mix of Quality and Tasked children playing together. Once night falls, he goes back to greet Harriet, who apologizes for... (full context)
Chapter 27
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
...highly reluctant, but Hiram insists, and Corrine eventually agrees. The next day, Hiram dons his tasking clothes while Corrine dresses in her mourning outfit. They drive through the town and past... (full context)