As a young black woman in the 1970s, Dana has certainly faced both discrimination and hardship. But the difficulties she faces in the twentieth century pale in comparison to her daily fight to survive Rufus's world.
While living in the past, Dana must survive beatings and strenuous physical labor. She...
realizes that she cannot simply leave because she will be dragged back—and face another beating. She has to do things that she detests, even faithfully serving the white woman who hates her, in order to survive from one day to the next and to do so without being beaten. She feels helpless after Alice commits suicide and is forced to kill Rufus when he tries to rape her.
In short, Dana learns that life in the twentieth century pales in reality when compared to her slave life because she doesn't face a beating or death at every turn in the 1970s. Instead of using every mental capacity she possesses to stay two steps ahead of Rufus and therefore stay alive, modern Dana has time and creative energy to be a writer. Dana notes that during this journey she
lost about a year of [her] life and much of the comfort and security [she] had not valued until it was gone.
Security is the much preferred way to live, but it does allow Dana to move mindlessly throughout her days; the Dana who lives as a slave is afforded no such luxury. In many ways, the pain of slavery keeps Dana's consciousness crisp, as she notes in chapter 4:
The pain was a friend. Pain had never been a friend to me before, but now it kept me still. It forced reality on me and kept me sane.