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Nigel doesn’t know whether Rufus mailed the letter. He
says people laughed at Rufus for paying so much for Alice, who was
half-dead. Although Nigel wants to try to run away again, he feels
grudging gratitude to Rufus, who saved him from being sold South.
Dana takes care of Alice, who is incontinent and disoriented. Dana
worries that Rufus will rape Alice again, but he says that would
be like hurting a baby. Gradually, Alice begins to gain awareness
of her surroundings and ask questions about her past.
Dana and Alice take over the cookhouse responsibilities
so that Sarah can be Carrie’s midwife as she gives birth. Alice
asks Dana whether she, Alice, is a slave. After warning Alice that
she might not want to know the answers to these questions, she tells
Alice about her history: Because she helped a slave escape, she
was made a slave herself. Alice then remembers Isaac. She wants
desperately to get to him, but Dana reminds her that she wouldn’t
get far in her weakened state. Tess, a slave whom Weylin has recently
started sleeping with, comes to announce that Weylin wants dinner
served. Dana tells Alice that Rufus never revealed that Isaac beat
him. Alice is furious and abuses Dana. Dana hears the cries of Carrie’s
Weylin gives Nigel some clothes for his newborn son, Jude.
Dana overhears Weylin telling Rufus that buying Alice was a waste
of money, because he will have to whip her severely to get what
he wants from her. Dana tells Rufus she wants to write another letter
to Kevin. Rufus asks her to talk Alice into sleeping with him. Dana resists,
but she worries that even if Alice refuses to go to him willingly,
he will simply resort to rape. Rufus abuses Dana on the subject
of Kevin, suggesting that maybe Kevin wants to be with “his own
kind.” Rufus tells her that his father thinks he should just sleep with
Dana. Rufus says he would cut his own throat if he ever found himself
wanting Dana. Dana talks to Alice, who berates Dana, saying she’s
on her way to being a mammy, and that she should convince Rufus
to sleep with her, rather than Alice. She asks Dana whether she
would have sex with Rufus, and Dana says no. Alice says she will
run away rather than go to Rufus, but when Dana says she will try
to stall Rufus to give her a start, Alice breaks down, cries, and
says she will go to him.
Rufus is mostly kind to Alice, although he gets drunk
and beats her at least once. Dana plans to run away, but fear prevents
her from doing so immediately. One night, Alice shows Dana the letters
she wrote to Kevin. Rufus never mailed them. That night, Dana runs away.
Almost immediately, the Weylins come looking for her. Rufus drives
her out of the bushes where she is hiding, and Weylin kicks her
in the face. She loses consciousness.
In some ways, Dana is an unreliable narrator. Her own
narration clearly foreshadows events that she never sees coming,
an obliviousness that Butler creates intentionally. Butler wants
us to understand that when it comes to Rufus, Dana has a blind spot.
For example, Dana’s narration makes it obvious—to us, but not to
her—that Rufus never mailed the letters to Kevin. She recounts Rufus’s
evasive responses to her queries about the letters and Sarah’s ominous
hint that Rufus’s word should not be trusted. Yet until part 12 of
“The Fight,” Dana persists in believing that Rufus sent the letters,
as he says he did. At this point in the novel, we also strongly
suspect, because of evidence that Dana herself has provided, that
Rufus poses a sexual threat to her. We know that he is willing to
resort to rape when his efforts at persuasion fail, and we know
that Dana closely resembles Alice, her relative, who is the object
of Rufus’s obsessive sexual desire. But while we may fear that Rufus
is on the brink of raping Dana, she does not seem aware of this
particular danger. Dana’s need to see Rufus as a good man, despite
all indications to the contrary, may stem from a number of sources.
She may identify him as Kevin’s double, a basically good white man
from an earlier time in history. She may feel familial sympathy
for him, since he is her ancestor. She may want to believe that
human nature is not so easily corrupted by power. Whatever the reason,
or combination of reasons, Dana proves herself repeatedly unable
to predict outcomes that Butler makes obvious to us.
The birth of Jude, Nigel’s and Carrie’s son, points to
the cyclical nature of slavery. Jude’s birth corresponds with Alice’s
rebirth; as the baby cries out for the first time, Alice wakes up
and faces the world anew by remembering who she is and what she
has been through. What should be two joyful events—the birth of
a baby and the mental recovery of a gravely ill woman—are grim because
of their context. Jude is born into slavery. Alice is born into
the knowledge that she has been beaten half to death, enslaved,
deprived of her husband, and forced to live side by side with her
rapist. Jude’s birth is also a melancholy-tinged event for his parents.
Jude binds Nigel and Carrie more closely to Weylin. Because the
couple must care for their infant, they cannot realistically plan
to escape. Nigel’s dreams of freedom die with the birth of his son.
Just as concern for Carrie forces Sarah to keep her head down and
work hard, concern for Jude will force Carrie and Nigel to behave
as Weylin wishes.
The fact that Dana agrees to talk with Alice and make
Rufus’s case for him does not mean that she has capitulated or that
the system has broken her. Rather, she chooses to speak on Rufus’s
behalf because she considers it the least horrifying option available.
Persuading Alice to sleep with a man who has already raped her is
a repugnant task. As Alice points out, it is an act of collusion
with the master against the slaves. Dana understands this, but she
also understands that Alice’s fate is certain: Rufus will sleep
with her, and the only question is how gravely Alice will be hurt
in the process. If she refuses to sleep with him willingly, she
will be whipped and raped. If Dana convinces her to sleep with him
without struggling, she will escape at least the whipping. Running
away is Alice’s only real way out, but she is still weak from illness,
and her traumatic memories of the chase and the dogs prevent her
from considering running away as a serious option. While Dana decides
that pleading Rufus’s case is the best option, Butler leaves it
up to us to decide whether she is right. Perhaps, despite what Dana
thinks, the spiritual death that results from capitulating to Rufus
is more damaging to Alice than the bodily harm caused by refusing
him would be. And although Dana never explicitly acknowledges this,
she has a vested interest in Rufus’s and Alice’s sexual union, because
they are her ancestors. Only if Alice sleeps with Rufus will Dana
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