The Fall, Parts 5–8
Summary: The Fall, Part 5
Dana takes on household chores. Margaret hounds her, even going so far as to throw scalding coffee at her. Kevin tries to persuade Dana to leave the Weylins. Dana refuses. She worries that someday she will have to return to the plantation alone, and she wants Rufus to have as many fond memories of her as possible. Kevin suggests that Dana put herself into a scary situation so that she will believe her life is in danger, which will prompt the dizzy spells and get them home. Dana wants to wait until Rufus’s leg has healed. She does accede to Kevin’s insistence that she begin sleeping in his room. He tells her that Margaret has been chasing him. Kevin and Dana have both noticed that several of the female slaves’ children resemble Weylin.
Dana visits Rufus, at his request. He tells her he sympathized with Sarah when his father sold off her sons. He asks Dana to read Robinson Crusoe to him, and she does. Rufus tells her that the books in the house belonged to his father’s first wife, Miss Hannah. He also tells her that his father sold Alice’s father to a trader headed south, but that Alice and her mother still live nearby. Dana wonders whether the patroller she fought is dead. Rufus says he told his mother that Dana was the one who saved him from the river. On her way downstairs, Dana meets Weylin, who quizzes her about her abilities and says he wants to buy her from Kevin so she can teach Rufus. Dana tells him that she likes Rufus but prefers to stay with Kevin. Weylin says that if she does, she’ll regret it.
Summary: The Fall, Part 6
Weylin forces Dana and the other slaves to watch him whip a man for talking back. One day, Margaret asks Dana where she slept last night. When Dana admits that she slept in Kevin’s room, Margaret slaps Dana. Remembering the whip, Dana does not answer back or defend herself. In the cookhouse, Sarah reveals that she hates Margaret because it was she who insisted on selling away Sarah’s children in order to have more spending money. She warns Dana that Margaret wants Kevin and that she dislikes Dana because Dana has him. She advises Dana to make Kevin let her sleep in the attic with the other slaves again. She also advises her to ask for her freedom while she is still pretty enough to make Kevin listen.
Summary: The Fall, Part 7
Dana continues to sleep with Kevin. One morning, she bumps into Weylin as she leaves the bedroom. He winks at her, and Dana feels ashamed, as if she’s Kevin’s whore. After catching Dana reading in the library one day, Weylin tells her to stay away from books when she’s not reading to Rufus. Nigel, who is thirteen, asks Dana to teach him to read. She asks him whether he understands the danger involved. In answer, he shows her his back, which is scarred from the whip. One day, Kevin and Dana see some young children pretending to auction each other. Dana is horrified, but Kevin thinks she is overreacting to what is just a game. He says the plantation is not as inhuman as he imagined it would be, and Dana says physical violence is not the only form of brutality. She is disturbed by the ease with which she and Kevin have grown used to slavery.
Summary: The Fall, Part 8
Dana continues reading to Rufus. One day, Margaret hangs around while Dana reads, fussing over her son and continually interrupting Dana to ask if Rufus is hot or hungry. Eventually, Rufus loses his temper, and for the first time he reminds Dana of Weylin. In the cookhouse, Dana finds Nigel teaching Carrie. He says that Sarah doesn’t want Carrie to learn for fear that it will get her whipped or sold. Dana agrees to teach Carrie, but not where Sarah might catch them. As she gets up to burn a spelling test Nigel has just passed, Weylin comes in. Enraged that Dana has been reading, he drags her outside and whips her. She gets dizzy before Kevin can make it to her side.
Analysis: The Fall, Parts 5–8
Margaret Weylin resents Dana for several reasons, most of them motivated by jealousy. She hates Dana’s affectionate, respectful relationship with Rufus. She hates Dana’s hold over Kevin. She hates Dana’s ability to read and write, and her educated way of speaking. Most of all, she hates Dana’s independence. In some ways, Margaret is no freer than Dana is. She is trapped by her role as Weylin’s wife and Rufus’s mother. She has no interests of her own and no tasks to carry out. In an agony of boredom, she wastes her days ordering people to do what they are already doing, accusing hardworking slaves of laziness, and obsessing over her son. A woman of no breeding, she aspires to be a lady and imagines that behaving capriciously and bossing people around will make her appear just as accomplished as Weylin’s first wife was. Practically illiterate, Margaret has no inner resources on which to draw. Dana is a slave, at least in the eyes of the Weylin household, and that status marks her as Margaret’s inferior. Still, she enjoys freedoms that Margaret does not. Her days are full, partly with drudgery but also with the important work of teaching children how to read—work that the illiterate Margaret is incapable of doing. Dana has Kevin’s respect, which is far more than Margaret has from her husband or her son. Dana also has an education, which gives her confidence and keeps her stimulated in an understimulating time. She may be a slave, but her thoughts are her own, and they are far richer than Margaret’s barren musings. Margaret understands, or at least dimly grasps, the essential differences between herself and Dana, and she hates and fears Dana as a result.
One of the abiding themes of Kindred is the disturbing ease with which slavery can be accepted by individuals and by a whole community of people. Dana suppresses her instincts to rebel against slavery, especially after she has seen one man whipped, and Butler suggests that it is the constant threat of violence that forces people to accept it. The memory of Weylin’s brutality forces Dana to stay calm, for example, when Margaret slaps her across the face for sleeping in Kevin’s bed. Butler cites the threat of emotional violence as another reason to knuckle under. Sarah, a strong-willed and intelligent woman, tamps down her own fury to keep her one remaining child close to her. The knowledge that Weylin could sell off Carrie, as he sold off her sons, scares Sarah into obedience. But Butler suggests that it is not just the threat of physical and emotional violence that keeps slavery going. Rather, she argues, people have an amazing and disquieting predisposition to accept the status quo. Children observe their elders, figure out the way things are, and behave accordingly. The children even pretend to auction each other off. Although they do not consciously realize what they are doing, they are preparing themselves at an early age for a predictable life of slavery. Even outsiders find it easy to accept a state of slavery. It should be nearly impossible for Dana and Kevin, citizens of modern America, to adjust to 1800s Maryland. Yet they do adjust, and with astonishing ease. By part 7 of “The Fall,” Dana is feeling ashamed of her relationship with Kevin, and Kevin is hinting that life on the plantation isn’t all that bad. The natural human instinct to fit in, Butler suggests, makes change difficult and rebellion almost unthinkable.
Because he is a white man, Kevin cannot see the Weylin plantation as Dana sees it. In part, this is a literal failure to see. Kevin is in the house, kept away from the day-to-day lives of the slaves. He doesn’t observe, as Dana does, the whipping of spirited slaves, the forced illiteracy of children who want to learn, or the enduring pain of a mother who has lost her children. While Dana and the other slaves get up while the whites are still sleeping and stay awake, working, until after the whites have gone to bed, Kevin is well rested, well fed, and bored. But Kevin’s failure to see is also a failure of the imagination. Dana describes her husband as a liberal, forward-thinking man. But even enlightened, twentieth-century Kevin can block out the evil around him. Butler suggests that it is easy to ignore injustice we don’t experience firsthand, even when that injustice is happening right under our noses, and even when people we love are the ones suffering that injustice. Kevin stops far short of letting the Weylins off the hook, and he assures Dana he doesn’t mean to minimize the horror of what’s going on around them. Still, the fact that he doesn’t experience slavery in the palpable, personal, and humiliating way that Dana does means that he cannot fully understand it.
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