The Fight, Parts 6–8
Summary: The Fight, Part 6
Sarah tells Dana that Margaret went to Baltimore. Rufus is running a fever, so Dana gives him some of the aspirin she brought in her bag. Nigel tells Dana that the doctor can’t come yet, and Weylin has ordered her to stay the night with Rufus. He also says that Rufus hired a preacher to marry him and Carrie. Dana thinks to herself that no slave marriages are legal, whether performed by a preacher or not. Nigel says that Weylin now understands that Dana is a time traveler, and so does he. He asks whether it was Isaac who beat up Rufus, and Dana nods. In the morning, Dana and Rufus share breakfast. They discuss Weylin. Rufus calls him a fair man. Dana thinks to herself that he’s not fair, but neither is he a monster. He is just an ordinary man who does the things an ordinary man of his time is supposed to do. For the first time, Rufus questions Dana’s youthful appearance. She explains that when she returns home, mere days pass for her, while years pass for him. Rufus shows her a few brief letters from Kevin and agrees to send Kevin a letter Dana writes.
The doctor comes and speaks insultingly to Dana. She goes to the cookhouse, where Sarah tells her that Margaret left after giving birth to twins who died in infancy. Rufus later tells Dana that Luke was sold because Weylin got sick of him acting white. Rufus warns Dana that if she acts like Luke, Weylin could sell her too. He says Nigel ran away but was caught, whipped, and brought back. Rufus finds a book on slavery that Dana brought from 1976. She realizes that people crucial in African-American history—Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner—could be compromised if this modern book falls into the wrong hands. Worried about what his father will do if he finds it, Rufus makes Dana burn it. She agrees, although for a while she tries to hold on to a map, thinking she could use it to run away. Rufus tells her that the book and the map are irrelevant because she is home.
Summary: The Fight, Part 7
Alice and Isaac are caught on the fifth day after their escape. Alice has become a slave because she helped a slave escape. Rufus goes to town to buy her, asking Dana for some aspirin for her before he leaves. Sarah, who is in charge of the house now that Margaret is gone, tells Dana that it’s better to stay at the Weylins’ than to run away and be brought back half-dead. Rufus brings Alice home. She is a bloody wreck. Weylin will not pay for a doctor to treat any slave, so Dana tries to help her at Rufus’s request. She asks for salt water, which Rufus fears will hurt Alice, but Dana shows him her own back with its healed wounds to prove that soap and brine work.
Summary: The Fight, Part 8
It turns out that Alice’s injuries are mostly dog bites. Rufus tells Dana that he sent the letter to Kevin. He also tells her that Isaac was sold to a trader going to Mississippi. Sarah tells Dana that the slave traders cut off Isaac’s ears. Dana is angry that Rufus, who raped Alice, is now getting her to himself. Sarah worries that Dana’s frank talk is going to get her in trouble. She tells Dana that Alice will take her place in Rufus’s bedroom, and Dana explains that her relationship with Rufus is not sexual. She says that Kevin is her husband. Sarah says that the father of her older children, a white man, used to beat her. Sarah recommends that Dana ask Nigel whether Rufus really mailed the letter to Kevin.
Analysis: The Fight, Parts 6–8
Rufus’s charming ways makes it easy, for Dana and for us, to forget that his behavior is frequently monstrous. He courteously asks Dana for items from her handbag, when it would be easy for him to take them without asking. In many ways, he seems to love Alice. He is horrified by her injuries, he demands that Dana help Alice, and he treats her gently. Despite his courtliness, however, Rufus behaves terribly again and again. In part, this is because of his place in society: He is a white man in antebellum Maryland. According to the mores of his time, only the wills of white men matter, and every other member of society must bow before them. Even when Alice is a free woman, therefore, Rufus sees her as his property because she is black. And even though he understands that Dana is from another time, he expects her, too, to obey his commands, because she is a black woman. Rufus’s bad behavior must also be chalked up to his specific upbringing, however. His mother coddled him and failed to discipline him. His father set a violent example for him and physically abused him. As a result, Rufus grows into an unprincipled and violent adult. He believes that whatever he wants is moral, simply because he wants it. He draws on his considerable reserves of charisma, but when charisma doesn’t get him what he wants, he unrepentantly resorts to physical force. When Alice will not agree to have sex with him, he rapes her. He sees nothing wrong with the rape and is surprised that it enrages Isaac. In his mind, the rape was logical: He asked Alice nicely for what he wanted, but when she said no, he never considered accepting frustration or abandoning his desire.
Butler emphasizes that both black and white women are subordinated in 1800s Maryland. Sarah, Margaret, and Dana have all been subjected to some level of abuse by the men in their lives. Sarah’s plight is worst. The father of her older children was a slaveholder who subjected her to physical and sexual abuse. He claimed to love her, but he beat her repeatedly. Sarah would not have been able to repel his sexual advances without risking her life. Margaret’s case is less dire. Weylin does abuse her and neglect her, but her race gives her more power in her relationship than Sarah had in hers. Still, Margaret’s weak personality and childishness make it hard for her to exercise any control even over the household, which is nominally her sphere. She is dominated by her husband and her son. Dana’s situation is most complicated. Although she is a free woman from a free society, Dana does not enjoy an entirely equal partnership with her husband. Kevin is controlling, and he tends to see his wife as a secretarial figure. More problematic, traveling to 1800s Maryland forces Dana and Kevin to see their marriage in an ugly historical context. As a white man and a black woman in the 1970s, they face discrimination. As a white man and a black woman in the 1800s, however, they face the perception that Dana “belongs” to Kevin.
Weylin’s sale of Luke is an ominous development. It points to the ineffectiveness of Luke’s survival technique, which is to tell whites what they want to hear and then do what he wants. Butler suggests that no survival technique works: The whims of whites are all that matter. Weylin gives up Luke, one of his best workers, after deciding that Luke “thought he was white.” Luke’s fate is also worrisome for Dana because, like Luke, she has been accused by Weylin of aspiring to whiteness. Her education and self-possession intimidates him and makes him resent her. And as Rufus points out, the fact that Dana is a free woman means nothing. Weylin may not have papers proving that he owns Dana, but his race is far more important than the truth. Luke’s sale is an important reminder that no African-American, free or slave, can feel secure in antebellum Southern society.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!