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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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 blacks 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.
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
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