“[Tom Weylin] wasn’t a monster at all. Just an ordinary man who sometimes did the monstrous things his society said were legal and proper.”

Dana makes this observation in part 6 of “The Fight.” Rufus has just said that Weylin would never whip Dana for something Rufus told her to do, because it is her duty to obey Rufus. He sees this theoretical forbearance as evidence that his father is a fair man. While Dana does not agree with Rufus’s characterization of Weylin as fair, she does believe that Weylin must be analyzed in the context of his time period. This quotation is just one of several instances in which Dana observes that Weylin is not as bad as he could be, that he is not as cruel as some of the other men of his day. Butler may intend for us to agree with Dana’s interpretation. Perhaps a slave owner who whips people to punish them is less hateful than a slave owner who whips people to indulge his own appetite for cruelty. On the other hand, Butler may intend for us to interpret Dana’s grudging sympathy for Weylin as evidence that her stay in Maryland has warped her judgment beyond repair. If morality is absolute, no slave owner, however fair or unfair, may be absolved.