The Slave Dancer

by Paula Fox
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What is the climax of Paula Fox's novel The Slave Dancer?  

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Climax is defined as the turning point in the story, the moment when the conflict "reaches its peak," and rising action turns into falling action, allowing for the resolution to be in sight though not yet there ("Climax," Literary Devices).

The climax of Paula Fox's historical novel The Slave Dancer occurs soon after the slave ship, called The Moonlight, shipwrecks in a violent storm. Ras and Jessie, who had been trapped in the hold, are freed when the jolt of the ship crashing releases the hatch door. After they emerge to find the slaves gone and all the crew dead or dying, the two boys swim to what turns out to be the Mississippi shore. Deep in the woods of the Mississippi shore, they have a rescue experience that creates the turning point in the story and helps to solidify Jessie's substantial change in character.

On the bank of the Mississippi, they are encountered by and rescued by an elderly escaped slave named Daniel, who has made his home deep in the woods. Daniel shelters them and feeds them long enough for them to regain their strength. He particularly shows empathy for and develops a connection of spirit with Ras but continues to behave distantly towards Jessie. When both boys are well enough to travel, Daniel connects Ras with members of the underground railroad to help Ras escape to freedom in the north and gives Jessie directions for getting back home to New Orleans. This serves as the major turning point in the novel because it is at this point when the reader can begin to see the resolution in sight, the resolution being that both boys will make it to safety and freedom. However, upon parting from Daniel, Jessie observes a significant emotional distance between himself and Daniel that further creates a major turning point in Jessie's outlook.

Jessie had observed Daniel hug Ras goodbye. Jessie had been expecting the same farewell treatment, but to his surprise, Daniel only says, "I hope you have a safe journey," and stands there looking at Jessie with no smile on his face and arms "unmoving at his sides" (p. 169). It is at this moment when Jessie realizes the huge emotional divide between them because Daniel sees all white men, even Jessie, as the enemy. This is an emotional divide that Jessie wants no part of.

As a result of the realization of this emotional divide, coupled with his experiences on the ship, Jessie changes completely from the boy he was at the beginning of the novel. At the beginning of the novel, growing up poor in a one-room cabin, he had dreamed of becoming a "rich chandler," meaning a rich importer and exporter of trade, but now he was determined not to do anything even remotely connected with the "importing and sale and use of slaves" (p. 175-76). Once he got back home and settled into his old life, wondering what profession he should take up, he found that, as he looked around him, "everything [he] considered bore, somewhere along the way, the imprint of black hands" (p. 176). Therefore, he became an apothecary instead and soon moved to Rhode Island, happy to be far from slavery, yet still always deeply missing the South.

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The climax of any story is the point in the story of greatest interest and emotional involvement in the plot.  Taking this into consideration when analyzing the story of "The Slave Runner," the climax would be when Jessie and Ras have to say goodbye.  Ras is headed off on the underground railroad to the north, where he will be safe, and Jessie is headed back to New Orleans.  They face each other and Ras points to Jessie and says "nose."  Then he points to his mouth and says "teef,"  Jessie laughs and says "teeth."  Ras shakes his head and says teef then walks away.  They never see each other again, but never will forget the bond formed in the hold of that slave ship.

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