protagonist and narrator of the novel. To save the future existence
of her family, Dana must repeatedly save the life of Rufus, the
man who fathered one of her ancestors. Although Rufus enslaves her
and abuses her, Dana cares for him. When she time travels, Dana
must struggle to maintain her identity as a strong, intelligent, free
black woman in a world in which women and all black people are utterly
subservient to ignorant, cruel white men.
in-depth analysis of Dana.
inconsistent, power-drunk slave owner and the father of one of Dana’s
ancestors. Rufus rapes and enslaves Alice and attempts to rape and
enslave Dana. He longs to be loved but expects to always get his
way, using coercion and violence if he is denied.
in-depth analysis of Rufus Weylin.
- A slave forced to bear Rufus’s children. Alice is like
an antebellum-South version of Dana, a living reminder of what Dana’s
life might have been like had she been born earlier. Although she
does not immediately accept her position, Alice’s will is broken over
time. Pushed too far, she becomes utterly desperate.
in-depth analysis of Alice Greenwood.
husband and Rufus’s foil. Kevin is a relatively progressive white
man who married a black woman despite the objections of his family.
As a time traveler to the South, he frees slaves. Despite his progressive
thinking, however, Kevin likes to be in control and sulks when he
suspects his wife may be enjoying her time with Rufus. Because it
does not affect him personally, Kevin is blind to much of the injustice around
in-depth analysis of Kevin Franklin.
father. A cruel, vicious man, Weylin beats slaves for minor insubordination.
When crossed, he can be petulant and violent. In some ways, Weylin
is fair, and he always keeps his word. He protects his slaves because
he sees them as an investment. Weylin suspects that there is much
he doesn’t know about the world, and he fears the unknown deeply.
- Tom Weylin’s wife. Margaret spoils her son and goes
half-crazy after her infant twins die. Dim-witted and temperamental,
Margaret lashes out at the slaves. Once she begins using opium,
she transforms from a peevish and overwrought woman into a mellow
person who is sickeningly sweet to those she formerly abused.
cook. Sarah is a slave who loves Rufus in spite of herself. The
sale of her sons scares Sarah into submission. Unwilling to lose
her daughter, she complies with Rufus’s demands and performs her physically
draining work without complaint. Sarah is mother to Carrie and grandmother
son of two slaves, Luke and Carrie, and the grandson of Sarah. Because
Nigel’s father advises him to follow his own path, Nigel dreams
of running away and views freedom as a possibility. Although he
is whipped for infractions, Nigel’s usefulness makes him largely
untouchable. As boys, Nigel and Rufus are friends. As an adult,
however, Nigel realizes that Rufus does not view him as a true friend.
mute daughter and Nigel’s wife. Carrie helps everyone and doesn’t
make waves. Because she chooses not to interact with whites, and
because she is mute, Carrie succeeds in keeping a low profile. She
takes a practical view of Dana’s role on the plantation and stands
beside Dana when other slaves abuse her.
father and Carrie’s husband. Luke teaches his son how to disobey
whites’ orders without overtly contradicting them. Weylin sells
Luke simply because he tires of his sass, a decision that frightens
Dana and show that no one is safe from the cruelty and arbitrary whims
of whites. Luke’s fate demonstrates the ultimate ineffectiveness
of passive resistance.
husband. Rufus’s treatment of Alice fills Isaac with anger. Isaac’s
fate as a runaway slave serves as a warning to Dana and the other
overseer at the Weylins’, and a cousin of Margaret Weylin’s. A cruel
and small-minded man, Jake shows Dana how abusive a white man with
power can be. He beats slaves for no good reason and demands physically
impossible feats of labor from them. Jake is universally feared
slave forced to sleep with Weylin and Edwards. When her value as
a sexual slave is diminished, Tess is sold off. She is a kind and
helpful person. She fears what eventually comes to pass: that she
will be forced to work in the fields so that Edwards can keep a
closer eye on her. Tess’s fate shows that slave owners afford no
special treatment or consideration even to their lovers.
field hand who flirts with Dana, despite her warnings about Rufus’s
jealousy. Rufus sells Sam, separating him from his family, as punishment
for exchanging a few innocent words with Dana.
cleaning woman, who betrays Dana to Weylin. Like some of the other
slaves, Liza is willing to do whatever she can to protect her own
interests. She pays for betraying her fellow slaves, however.
son of Rufus and Alice. Joe, who resembles Rufus, is smart and devoted
to his mother.
direct ancestor, and the daughter of Rufus and Alice. Hagar is a
baby when the novel ends.
infant son of Nigel and Carrie. Jude is born a slave.
sister. Although as a young person Carol is best friends with a
black girl, as an adult she takes on the racist mindset of her husband.
overseer who works at the Weylins’ following Jake Edwards’s departure.