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Margaret returns. She makes Dana read to her, clean her room, do her laundry, and sleep next to her on the floor. Her old temper seems to have left her, perhaps because of her opium addiction. One day, three of the Weylin slaves are tied up and taken away to be sold. Tess is one of them. Dana tries to talk to her, but Rufus drags her off to the library. He tells her that his father arranged the sale before his death and says the slaves are his property. Dana is heartbroken.
Dana encounters Carrie, who takes her to her own cabin. Dana laments that she saved Rufus’s life. Through gestures, Carrie says that if she had not, they all would have been sold to break up the estate. Carrie rubs Dana’s cheek and tells her that her Black skin “doesn’t come off,” no matter what others say.
Rufus tells Dana to write letters for him to his creditors. She says in her own time, she avoided secretarial work, and he smiles and says Kevin told him that she was a writer. He offers her some paper to use as she pleases and says he doesn’t want to sell any more slaves. He says his father left debts, and he hopes Dana can forestall the sale of more slaves by writing persuasive letters.
One night, Dana and Alice are eating dinner in Alice’s cabin. Rufus comes home drunk and tells them that they are “only one woman.” He leaves. Alice asks Dana if Rufus ever sleeps with her, and she says no. Alice says she understands what Rufus means. He wants Alice to sleep with and Dana to talk to, and the two women look alike.
The slaves have a party to husk the corn. Rufus supplies good food and whiskey. A muscular slave named Sam says that it’s too bad Dana is spoken for. At Christmas, there is another party. Rufus asks Dana if she has her eye on someone. Looking at Sam, he says he would sell anyone she wanted to marry. He says Kevin is far away. Later, Alice convinces Rufus to let Dana teach their son Joe to read. Dana tells Rufus that his son is very smart, and Rufus starts to take an interest in the boy. Alice wants Rufus to free Joe, and he says he will—in return for Alice’s affection. Alice thinks he wants her to be more like Dana. She tells Dana that she doesn’t trust Rufus, and that she will run away again after she has the baby she’s carrying. She asks Dana to steal some opium from Margaret to keep the baby quiet.
Alice gives birth to a daughter, Hagar. Dana is elated because Hagar is her ancestor, and she hopes she will no longer be called to the past to save Rufus’s life. A few weeks later, Alice asks Dana for the opium. She says she has to escape before she turns into Dana. Dana threatens to withhold help unless Alice stops speaking to her like that. Alice says Dana will help her because of Dana's pride. Dana gives her the opium.
Sam asks Dana to teach his younger siblings to read. She says she will if Rufus agrees. He starts to tell her what other slaves say about her, and she says she does what she must to survive, just as they do. He flirts with her a little and goes away. Three days later, Rufus sells Sam. Sam’s sister calls Dana a whore. Dana pleads with Rufus to reconsider, and he hits her. She disobeys his order to go to the house. Instead, she goes into the cookhouse and gets warm water. Then she goes to the attic and slits her wrists.
In part 8 of “The Storm,” Carrie gives Dana a way to feel better about her relationship with Rufus. After months of getting the cold shoulder from other slaves, and feeling that perhaps she is, as Alice constantly says, more on the side of Rufus than the side of the slaves, Dana has come to feel like a betrayer. Prior to this point in the novel, keeping Rufus alive was a matter of survival for Dana: Unless he fathered her ancestor, Hagar, she herself would cease to exist. But now Hagar has been born, and Dana has lost her compelling reason for protecting Rufus. When Tess is sold, she realizes that she permitted Rufus to live and to continue controlling the slaves. However, Carrie points out to Dana that were Rufus to die, the estate would fall apart and the slaves would be sold off without regard to family ties. Carrie’s observation assuages some of Dana’s guilt.
Carrie’s observations highlight the demented symbiosis of life on the Weylin plantation. The slaves do not live happy or even tolerable existences under Rufus’s rule. He is not an easy master. But he is not as cruel as some others Dana knows of. And like other masters, he has an interest in keeping his slaves’ families’ together. If they are with their families, the slaves will be happier, and if they are happier, Rufus figures, they will work harder. If the slaves need Rufus to help them keep their families intact, he needs them to help him keep his self-esteem intact. For Rufus, the slaves’ primary functions are to work the fields, care for the house and its inhabitants, and bring in income. But no less important for him is the sense of self-worth the slaves give him. He needs to believe that the slaves love and respect him. He longs to think that Alice can at least tolerate him. He depends on them to maintain his identity as a Southern gentleman of means.
Read more about Rufus and how he is, in the end, a brutal man.
Dana brushes off Alice’s anger, but Butler suggests that Alice is more perceptive than Dana can admit. Despite being born in the 1800s, despite her lack of education, Alice is, in some ways, braver and more rebellious than Dana is. She may sleep with Rufus, but she never feels affection for him, as Dana does. Rather, she rigorously maintains her scornful, distrustful attitude toward him. Indeed, her desire to flee the plantation is primarily motivated by her fear that she is beginning to accept her identity as Rufus’s personal and sexual slave. When she gives birth to Hagar, she starts to feel something close to warmth for the man who has been her rapist for years. Alice can accept anything except for her waning hatred of Rufus. She must keep her sense of outrage or lose her identity. Unlike Dana, she is not constantly forgiving Rufus and then trying to justify her behavior. Her pure contempt for Rufus and the dignity she achieves in spite of her reduced circumstances make her, in many ways, a more inspiring figure than Dana is.
When Dana slashes her wrists, she performs both a practical and a symbolic act. Her suicide attempt is practical: She knows that only the threat of death will send her back to 1976. It is also symbolic: For the first time, she is fleeing Rufus’s home rather than waiting for an outside danger to send her away. Dana takes this radical step after Rufus strikes her. After all he has done to her, Rufus’s slap may seem insignificant—and in a way, it is. However, Dana’s ties to Rufus are loosening. She has kept him alive long enough to father Hagar. As long as Hagar survives, Dana’s own existence is assured. She no longer needs to tolerate Rufus’s temper or let him humiliate her in public. And while the slap may pale in comparison to the whippings and beatings Dana has endured, it is the first blow Rufus has administered himself. In the past, he has gotten others to punish Dana on his behalf. Dana and Rufus have always had a tacit agreement: she will save him and care for and about him, and he will respect her. Rufus has repeatedly broken the spirit of that agreement, but when he lays his hand on her, he physically breaks the pact. Fury at this betrayal may be part of what motivates Dana to cut her wrists.
Read more about an important quote from part 11 of “The Storm.”
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