The Rope: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1305

Summary
Dana is home with Kevin for two weeks before she is transported back to Rufus. During the time she is with Kevin, they discuss their time in the South, and Kevin finally manages to ask Dana if Rufus had ever raped her. Dana explains to Kevin that Rufus never approached her sexually, that was the one thing she would never allow him to do. When Kevin reminds her that her own ancestors had made the opposite choice in order to survive, she still believes that she does not have their endurance.

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Dana is transported back to Rufus on the Fourth of July. When she arrives, she find Rufus in the barn with the body of a woman hanging from the rafters. It is Alice. She has hung herself. Although Rufus won’t tell her why Alice killed herself, Sarah tells her: Alice ran away and, to punish her, Rufus not only whipped her but also sold her children. However, Dana learns the entire truth: Rufus sent the children away and told Alice that he had sold them, just to scare her. Dana tells Rufus that he killed Alice. He is very sad over her death, but he takes no responsibility for it.

Now that Rufus has lost Alice, he begins to turn to Dana out of desire. These feelings, as Kevin has suspected, had been simmering under the surface all along. He tries to convince Dana to stay with him and take care of his children, but she refuses. He grows increasingly agitated, seeing that she and Alice looked so much alike that they could be the same woman He grabs Dana, but she escapes and runs to the attic, where her bag of supplies, including her knife, were kept. Rufus follows her.

Here in the attic, he tells her that he is lonely, that he’s never been so lonely in his life. He says he knows that Alice had hated him, but that it seemed that she had stopped hating him right before she tried to run. She had even come to him of her own accord at night. He wonders out loud to Dana how long it will take her to get over hating him, too, and he pushes her down on the floor. Dana is holding the knife, hidden in her bag, but she is afraid to use it. She thinks to herself, “I realized how easy it would be for me to continue to be still and forgive him even this,” but then she remembers that a “slave was a slave. Anything could be done to her. And Rufus was Rufus—erratic, alternately generous and vicious. I could accept him as my ancestor, my younger brother, my friend, but not as my master, and not as my lover.” Dana swiftly stabs Rufus with the knife and kills him. Both she and Rufus’ body are lying on the floor, and only his hand is holding her arm. Just as Nigel comes up the stairs to see what happened, Dana is transported home. She appears in her house with her arm inexplicably encased within the wall, up to the area that Rufus had held.

As soon as Dana is recovered from her amputation, she and Kevin fly to Maryland to investigate the Weylin estate. Here, they find newspaper records stating that Rufus Weylin had been killed in a fire at his home. Dana figures that Nigel must have set the fire to cover up Rufus’ murder. They also find papers stating that almost all of the slaves had been sold, except for Nigel and Carrie and Rufus’ own children. Since she knew her ancestor Hagar had made her home in Baltimore, Dana thinks that, , Margaret Weylin had taken Rufus’ children back with her to live there. Dana is heartbroken that Rufus did not make a will to provide for his slaves’ freedom after all, and she blames herself, because Rufus’ death ensured that they would have been sold. In spite of the bad news that they find, Dana and Kevin are able to gain some closure by finding historical proof of the world they had visited, and they can at least hold on to their sanity.

Analysis
Rufus, at one point in this chapter, tells Dana that she and Alice are like “one woman. Two halves of a whole.” The resemblance between Alice and Dana goes much farther than their similarities in looks. In this climactic chapter, both Dana and Alice are forced to choose between accepting submission or seeking freedom. They make the same choice, but they end up with opposite fates. It is evident that Alice was slowly becoming used to Rufus, even willingly sleeping with him. The fact that she runs away soon after she starts accepting him shows that Alice, who had been born a free woman and kidnapped into slavery, was running away not just from Rufus, but from the very acceptance of her enslavement. She does not succeed in running away, but she does finally escape, tragically, by killing herself.

Dana, too, makes a choice between life and enslavement to Rufus. Left with the choice to submit to him or to kill him, she chooses to kill him. Her action ensures her own freedom not just from enslavement to Rufus, but from being trapped in the past. Her killing of Rufus liberates her literally from the past. With him dead, she knows she will no longer be called back in time. However, killing Rufus also provides for a metaphorical liberation not just of Dana, but of the ancestor she so closely mirrors: Alice. Rufus’ death by Dana’s hand is a symbolic reversal of Alice’s death, brought about directly by Rufus’ hand. If not a true liberation, at least Dana was able to provide for symbolic restitution.

Upon her return home, Dana’s arm is trapped in the wall, maiming her for life. It is significant that the book both opens and ends with this maiming: although she is no longer beholden to going back to the past, the violence of the history that Dana has experienced has physically and permanently been etched into her body.

Butler has used the plot device of time travel to allow Dana to experience firsthand the history of her people. By using time travel to allow Dana to personally experience slavery, the time travel becomes much more than a plot device: it allows for the collapse of distance between the past and the present and therefore highlights the utter importance that a true understanding of the past is to the present.

Dana herself cannot escape from her history. Her family line was made possible, as she learns from her time travel, only by Rufus’ own utter brutality towards Alice, a woman he professed to love but whom he kidnapped, raped, beat, and forced into suicide. Dana’s family line was made possible because the laws of the United States in the 1800s allowed for such brutality to exist. Dana’s actual, physical self would not have come into existence had Rufus not continually raped Alice. Therefore, the physical maiming of Dana upon her return from the past takes on a much greater symbolic significance. Even though she has managed a liberation from Rufus for herself, the loss of her arm is a constant reminder, and a physical symbol, of the fact that she cannot escape from her history. While Dana’s case is very personal, it is not unique to her situation. Through collapsing the distance between the past and the present in this novel, Octavia Butler provides a powerful reminder to Americans that the era of slavery was not so long ago, that the present is a direct result of the past, and that history needs to be remembered and understood in order to understand the present.

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