This week took us to the end of the book.
Dana arrived home with Kevin this time. He’s initially happy to be home, but is soon very restless. He was in the past for five years. They have only been in their new house together a few days–noting is familiar here. He is agitated and irritable. He tells her about some of the horrible things he’s seen like a woman dying in childbirth. It’s interesting that this horror comes from Kevin telling Dana about a woman’s whose master beat her until the baby fell out of her.
I feel like Kevin is overreacting to his return–his agitation seems way too great. I realize that things are new in this house, but you’d think that even after five years, being home wouldn’t be such a bad thing. And then he tells a story like the above and while I still don’t understand why it’s not just a relief to be out of there, i can see that he’s got PTSD.
But he was jumpy–the sound of jet overhead freaked him out. Again, would five years without a jet overhead make you forget that they existed before hand?
Earlier Dana had been concerned that Kevin could be “won over” to the bad side. But he tells her that he had been helping slaves to escape. he even imagined that they might both want to go back to help more slaves escape–to do good historically speaking.
This story is obviously not about Kevin, but it is interesting to think that if he felt his life wasn’t amounting to much here (despite or because of the marriage), that he might feel he was more useful in the past.
But before either one of them could settle down she felt herself pulled back once again.
She arrived in a storm to find a drunken Rufus passed out–face down in a puddle. [Not saying that this doesn’t happen in real life, but I’ve never seen anyone drunk, face down in a puddle, But it does happen quite a lot in fiction]
She helped get Rufus back home where his father was waiting. His father was much older, he had a cane and had lost much of his edge. But he still had sass for her. He asked what happened to her face–she had a scab. She told him that’s where he kicked her. He roared at her that it was six years since he’d seen her last. She told him that for her it was only a few hours.
Rufus was in a really bad way–he had malaria. Of course no one knew anything about mosquitos back then, so she tries to teach them about microbes but they don’t believe her. She was able to mend him (she had brought back aspirin an Excedrin which helped with the pain). I love the way Dana is exasperated with the “doctors” of the day. I also wonder a the limited supply of things that Dana brought with her. While she couldn’t get antibiotics OTC, I wonder if there’s any medicine beyond aspirin that se could have brought with her.
As Rufus was recovering, his father became deathly ill. Rufus insisted that Dana help him. She rushed to his side, but he was already dead when she got there. Nevertheless Rufus blamed her for not being able to save him. It’s not entirely clear if he really did blame her or if he just needed to blame someone. Although Rufus ha come to think of her as supernatural (which she was).
The next day Rufus took it out on her by putting her to work in the fields under the an incredibly nasty field manager. He mocked her as useless (which she was, she would admit), and supposedly “so smart.” Then he beat her hard. And continued to do so no mater how hard she worked. She didn’t know if she would make it through the day.
Rufus came and took her out of the field telling her that she was no good as a worker–embarrassing her but also saving face. Then he told her that his mother was coming back to stay with them and he wanted Dana to sit with her. Dana was shocked–assuming that the woman was dead. But also never wanting to see that horrible woman again. But Rufus assured her that his mother had been taking laudanum and had mellowed considerably.
She also learns that Rufus is continuing his father’s policy of selling slaves and breaking apart families. But he also threw parties for the slaves and allowed them to marry–something other slaveholders didn’t do. Rufus continues to be a(largely bad) contradiction.
All this time, Rufus had been with Alice–and she still didn’t like him. They had had some children but they’d all died or been sickly. She had had a boy who survived but he was not very psychically strong. Luckily for the boy, he looked a lot like Rufus and he was very smart. Alice was pregnant again and Dana hoped it would be Hagar, Dana’s ancestor. Surely the birth of Hagar would be the end of Dana’s duty.
Finally Alice gave birth to Hagar (Rufus hated the name) and finally one of the children looked like Dana.
All this time Rufus still fancied Dana. It’s unclear what he wanted from her exactly, because sex didn’t seem to be it. It was more just a matter of possessing her. So when he saw that one of the slaves, Sam, was making eyes at her, Rufus had him sold. When Dana learned about this, she slit her wrists.
Which sent her home.
She figured it was the best way to get home, because Kevin would know immediately what had happened and could take care of her (if she had OD’d on something they would have no idea what happened). She was home for fifteen days this time. Kevin was certain that she was back for good since Hagar had been born. But Dana could not relax.
She would not leave the house and would certainly not drive (imagine if she disappeared while behind the wheel). And she was right. Because she was sent back once more. This time it was not ling after the last visit. Rufus seemed fine but he showed her in the barn where Alice had hung herself.
Why? because he sold her children (his own children). Why? Because she ran away and he wanted to punish her.
He explains to Dana that he did not sell them, he sent them to his family in Baltimore as punishment to Alice. Alice was even starting to come around to Rufus a little. But this was the last straw.
Dana says that he basically killed Alice. He refuses to accept that. She tells him that the least he can do is raise their children free.
He agrees to bring them back home if Dana will help him raise them. She says he knows that she’s going to leave. Man, Rufus is a master manipulator.
The children come home and he finds that he actually likes the little ones. Dana asks him to make a will in which he frees all of his slaves on his death–something other slaveholders have done. He says she’s crazy–he knows that she will kill him if she thinks the slaves would be freed.
He lay with her on a pallet, forcing her hand, pleading with her and threatening her. I wonder how much of this book was meant to bring attention to manipulative men–the scenario is extreme, but you can see the manipulation at work.
He gets close to her and asks her some hard questions
“You never hated me, did you?” he asked.
“Never for long, I don’t know why. You worked hard to earn my hatred, Rufe.”
That is a staggering admission. Butler has created Rufus to be a complex person. Unlikable for so many obvious reasons, but seemingly willing to break the mold of what he has grown up with. At the same time, is Butler showing how easy it is for abused women to find good in their abusers. Of course, she also puts Dana’s own future on the line as motivation to care about Rufus.
He lay with his head on my shoulder, his left arm around me, his right hand still holding my hand, and slowly, I realized how easy it would be for me to continue to be still and forgive him even this. So easy, in spite of all my talk. But it would be so hard to raise the knife, drive it into the flesh that I had saved so many times (256).
As the book opened, Dana told us that she had lost her arm. I sort of get what Butler was doing–Rufus’ grasp was so strong, as if he would never let go, and in a sense he didn’t. It does come across as peculiarly science-fictiony to have that happen though.
In the epilogue she is back with Kevin and they fly to Maryland to see where they were–see what remains–see if there is any legacy of their being there.
This must have been a difficult book to end.
So much intensity had gone on, but Dana is now living with it yet so far removed from it. Having them able to find some information but not a lot also rings true to the history of slaves. There are no complete answers–not to what happened to her ancestors or even what happened to her. Most slaves were not deemed worthy of being remembered. if it were not for Dana’s ancestor writing the family tree in the Bible, Dana would not have known what she was even fighting for.
I’m really looking forward to Parable of the Sower–having no idea what it’s about.