Summary: The Fight, Part 1

Dana explains more about her relationship with Kevin. He offered to support Dana so that she could quit her job, but she kept working. He wanted her to type his stories, which she disliked doing, so they quarreled over the issue. After they decided to marry, they both faced objections from their families. Kevin’s sister, who as a girl had been best friends with a Black girl just as “fat and homely” as she was herself, had married a racist dentist twenty years her senior and embraced his prejudiced views. She said she would bar Kevin and Dana from her house if they married. Dana’s uncle, who had been like a father to her, was hurt by her decision to marry a white man. Dana and Kevin married in Las Vegas. When they returned, Dana got notice that the Atlantic Monthly had accepted one of her stories.

Summary: The Fight, Part 2

Dana wakes up at home in present time. Kevin is not there. Although she is in terrible pain from the whipping, she manages to bathe. She packs a bag of things she might need back in the South. She feels disoriented, unable to reconcile the past with the present. She spent two months in Maryland, but less than a day has passed at home. Afraid to leave the house, she asks a cousin to bring her groceries. Days pass. She reads all the books in the house that pertain to slavery. Gone with the Wind puts her off with its rosy portrait of slavery. She finds a book about concentration camps in World War II much more relevant.

Summary: The Fight, Part 3

Eight days after her return to 1976, Dana slips back to the antebellum South. Rufus, who appears to be eighteen or nineteen, is fighting with a Black man who turns out to be Alice’s husband, a slave named Isaac Jackson. Rufus has raped Alice. Dana wonders if she is pregnant with Hagar, Rufus’s child and Dana’s ancestor. Isaac knocks Rufus unconscious, and Dana intervenes to prevent him from killing Rufus, asking him to consider what will happen to him and Alice if he doesn’t restrain himself. Although Isaac does not trust Dana, he takes her advice and runs off with Alice. Alice, who recognizes Dana, says that Kevin went somewhere to the North.

Summary: The Fight, Part 4

Dana hopes to give Isaac and Alice enough time to get away. When Rufus comes to, he threatens to retaliate against Isaac, but Dana urges him not to. Rufus says he would have married Alice if they’d been born in Dana’s time. Dana realizes he loves Alice, even though he raped her. Rufus agrees to lie and to say that white men beat him. Dana heads to the Weylin home for help. Before she leaves, Rufus assures her that Weylin doesn’t know what to make of her vanishings and is probably afraid of her.

Summary: The Fight, Part 5

On the Weylins’ property, Dana encounters Jake, the new overseer. She also sees Carrie, who is heavily pregnant with Nigel’s child. Nigel takes Dana and Weylin on a cart to find Rufus. Weylin is impatient with his son. He asks Dana who and what she is but does not press her for answers. When she asks about Kevin, he says, not unkindly, that Kevin is a “damn fool.” About a year after leaving for the North, Kevin stopped by the plantation looking for Dana. Weylin says Dana can stay as long as she works. He remarks that she seems made to take care of Rufus.

Analysis: The Fight, Parts 1–5

In many ways, Kevin is a progressive man. In the 1970s, when casual racism was still common in the United States, he saw racial equality as mandatory and was shocked and surprised by the prejudiced beliefs of other people. He married a Black woman over the objections of his racist sister and brother-in-law, and of his future wife’s uncle. Yet Kevin is far from perfect. In fact, he has distinctly domineering tendencies. His insistence that Dana type up his stories suggests that he sees her as a secretarial figure, rather than as his equal. Life in antebellum Maryland gradually coarsens Kevin, bringing out his worst qualities. Because he is a white man, he is not exposed to the kind of horrors that Dana, a Black woman, must confront. And because he can be self-involved and insensitive, Kevin doesn’t make it his business to understand these horrors. Kevin’s experiences in the South suggest that only the most extraordinary members of any ruling class can fully empathize with oppressed members of society. Kevin is not extraordinary, and his garden-variety progressive beliefs are not enough to help him understand slavery or fully sympathize with those forced to endure it.

Read more about Kevin and how he is an imperfect man.

Butler suggests that in the days of slavery, education was a perilous endeavor for African-American women for a number of reasons. By the standards of 1970s America, Dana is an educated, intellectual young woman. By the standards of antebellum Maryland, she is suspiciously, almost freakishly, accomplished. Her sophistication startles everyone— whites, slaves, and free Black people alike. Whites at the Weylin household are uncomfortable with Dana. They feel threatened by her self-possession and by her literacy, which in most cases exceeds their own. But Dana also encounters resentment from other African-Americans at the Weylin household. They suspect that Dana is putting on airs, that she considers herself superior to them, or that, most damningly, she longs to escape her own race. Like other characters in the novel, Isaac distrusts Dana because she is, in his opinion, “too white.” Butler suggests that educated African-Americans in the 1800s had to weather not only the resentment of whites but also the resentment of people who believed that to desire an education was to turn one’s back on one’s people.

Read more about the motif of race.

Butler uses Dana’s increasing discomfort in her modern life to show how paralyzing slavery is, even for someone who has been raised in more enlightened times, who understands that slavery is an abomination, and who knows that the institution will be abolished someday. In part 2 of “The Fight,” when Dana returns to 1976 California without Kevin, she finds it impossible to inhabit fully her old life. During the eight days she spends in California, her behavior suggests that she is waiting to return to the South, rather than enjoying or at least taking part in the pleasures and freedoms of life in the 1970s. She takes care of her most basic bodily needs, managing to eat, shower, and sleep, but she does not return to her writing, continue to unpack, or do anything else that demonstrates true involvement with the world around her. In part, Dana’s shell-shocked behavior may stem from her separation from Kevin and her inability to feel at home when he is not with her. But in large part, Dana’s discomfort in California comes from a shift in her identity. She has grown used to living in the world of outhouses, cookhouses, whippings, and cruelty. To survive, she has conditioned herself to accept being treated as property. When she returns to modern California, she has a hard time slipping back into her independent-minded, twentieth-century self.

Read more about home as a motif.