Summary: The Fight, Part 9
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.
Summary: The Fight, Part 10
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 baby.
Summary: The Fight, Part 11
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.
Summary: The Fight, Part 12
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.
Analysis: The Fight, Parts 9–12
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.
Read more about the complicated relationship between Rufus and Dana.
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.
Read more about birthdays as a symbol.
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 exist.
Read more about whips as a symbol.