Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1286
Joe: The son of Rufus Weylin and Alice Greenwood
Evan Fowler: A new white overseer who works for Tom Weylin
Kevin and Dana return home. While Dana has been away for two months, Kevin has been gone for five years, and he is somewhat shocked at returning to the present. He tells Dana little about what he had done during those five years: he traveled through the cities of the Northeast; he supported himself as a teacher; he had helped slaves escape when he could; he was almost killed by a mob of whites who crushed a slave rebellion. Once, he had seen a pregnant slave woman beaten until the baby fell out of her body. Dana compares the sadistic slaveholder to Tom Weylin in her mind; she knows that Tom Weylin would not have ever made such a bad business move as to kill two slaves. Kevin feels disoriented and alienated from the home and soft life of the present to which he has returned. But while he and Dana are talking about his disorientation, she suddenly feels herself returning to the past, this time only a few hours after they had come home.
It is nighttime back in the antebellum South, and Dana finds Rufus face down in a puddle, drunk and unconscious. She makes her way to the Weylin household and finds Nigel, who helps her bring Rufus back to the house. When she sees Tom Weylin, she notices that he looks much older and frail. He tells her its been six years since he last saw her, and he asks why she has saved his son once again. When she replies that no one should die “lying in a ditch, drowning in mud and whiskey and his own vomit,” Tom Weylin becomes angry with her for speaking to him disrespectfully. He orders her to nurse Rufus back to health the way she did before, or he’ll have her whipped. Dana’s courage fizzles; she knows that although he is a frail man, he can do whatever he wants to her because she doesn’t have any rights in this society. It turns out that Rufus is suffering from more than drunkenness, that he also has a severe fever and pains in his legs. Although Dana cannot figure out what disease he may have, she does her best to nurse him with aspirin and other first aid supplies she brought with her from the present.
Over the past six years, Alice has become a “cool, bitter older sister to the girl” Dana had known before. She is treated harshly by the other slaves who hold her relationship with Rufus against her. She is pregnant, and she has also born three other children: two who have already died, and one boy, Joe—which means that Dana’s great great grandmother Hagar has yet to be born, and that Dana, to her dismay, is still beholden to protecting Rufus in order to ensure the future.
Rufus’ fever breaks after three days, but on the third day, Tom Weylin suffers what Dana diagnoses as a heart attack. When Dana cannot save Tom, Rufus blames her for his death. In order to take out his frustration on Dana, he sends her to work in the cornfields under Evan Fowler, their new white overseer. Fowler treats Dana brutally and beats her into working until she loses consciousness. Rufus saves her from receiving any further beatings, but he orders her to not be impudent to him, or he’ll send her back into the fields. She sees that he has turned into his father—something that she and Kevin had tried to prevent. Rufus tells Dana that his mother is returning home, and he expects Dana to act as her nurse.
Some days later, a slave-trader comes to the Weylin estate and purchases several of Rufus’ slaves. Dana is shocked by the fact that he sells his slaves and, by doing so, separates families and friends, even though he had told her in the past that he would not do as his father had done. He retorts that he has to sell slaves in order to keep the farm going, as his father had left many debts when he died. After witnessing the sad slave trade, Dana confides in Carrie that she feels responsible for their fate because she is the one who has kept Rufus alive. But Carrie signs to her that, no matter what others say, there is no changing what Dana is: a black woman. She also makes Dana realize that if Rufus dies, all of the slaves will surely be sold off.
Rufus decides to have Dana assist him with his finances. He confides in her that he is trying to avoid selling any more slaves. Dana goes to work writing letters for him, feeling that perhaps he is a changed man. She continues to try to convince him to provide, in writing, for the freedom of his children and Alice.
Christmas passes, and the slaves are allowed to have a party. Rufus later asks Dana if she’s found anyone to “jump the broom” with—that is, to marry. She says she has Kevin, but asks what he would do if she did fall in love. He answered that he would sell the slave who approaches her.
Meanwhile, Alice convinces Rufus to let Dana teach little Joe to read. And when Dana tells him that his son is bright and smart, Rufus, who had seen his father sell his illegitimate children, realizes that he can take an interest in Joe. He begins paying attention to him and his education more closely.
Finally, Alice has her baby. It is a girl, and she names her Hagar. Although she acts outwardly complacent, Alice tells Dana that she still plans on running away, rather than seeing her children be sold off as slaves. She does not trust Rufus to keep to his word to not sell them, or her.
One day, not long after the birth of Hagar, a slave named Sam, whom Dana had met during the Christmas festivities, approaches Dana to make some small talk. Unfortunately Rufus notices, and three days later, true to his previous threat, he sells him, separating Sam from his sisters and brothers. When Dana tries to argue with Rufus about Sam, he punches her in the jaw. Dana runs into the house, runs some warm water into a basin, and slits her wrists in the warm water, thereby finally transporting herself home eight months after arriving.
Despite Dana’s continued attempts to influence Rufus to become a more sympathetic and enlightened slave-owner, Rufus seems to have turned into the callous and unsympathetic man his father was. He, like Tom Weylin, has mastered the means by which to use his power to force his slaves into submission. He demonstrates this ability aptly by threatening to send Dana to the fields should she ever disobey him.
However, even though Dana despairs that she apparently was not able to change Rufus’ attitude towards his slaves, she does end up influencing the way he regards his children with Alice. Although Tom Weylin never acknowledged his illegitimate children and had regularly sold the children he had with his slave women, Dana helps Rufus to see the value in his off-spring, and because of her, he takes a direct interest in them. However, he still controls Alice as his property At one point, she tells Dana that Rufus would have her whipped if she ever spoke as impudently to him as Dana did. And Alice knows that she cannot trust Rufus, so she still plans to run away with her children.
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