Chapter Four, “The Fight,” pp. 108-188
Part 1, pp. 108-112
Dana is remembering when Kevin asked her to marry him and how Kevin’s sister reacted badly to the idea. Dana’s uncle is very hurt by her decision to marry a white man, although her aunt accepts it because Dana’s children will be light-skinned. Dana also remembers that the day they returned from their honeymoon in Las Vegas, Dana found out her first story had been published in the Atlantic.
Part 2, pp. 112-117
Dana awakens to find herself once again at home—without Kevin. She doctors her back as best as she can and washes her hair. She makes herself a new bag filled with necessities: clothes, soap, toothpaste, aspirin, her knife, a pencil, pen, and paper, a compact history of American slavery, and a Maryland map. She attaches the bag to her arm.
The next morning, Dana manages to spray ointment on her wounds, yet she is worried about infection. The whip Weylin had used on her had been “kept limber with oil and blood” and was certainly not disinfected after each whipping. Dana then wanders around her house, reacquainting herself with everything and feeling disoriented. On the radio, she learns it is Friday, June 11, 1976. In her time, she has been gone less than a day, but in Rufus’s time, two months had passed. Dana fears that in Rufus’s time, years are passing right now, and Kevin may give up waiting for her to return.
Dana passes the time by reading about slavery—even Gone with the Wind—and about Nazi Germany. She thinks how alike the antebellum whites and Nazis were in their knowledge of torture.
Although Dana has returned to her own world, Rufus’s world looms large in her thoughts. Even in her present-day, modern life she feels reverberations from that world; her marriage to a white man turns up old racial prejudices both for whites and blacks. Dana had gone into Rufus’s world feeling superior, feeling that her knowledge of racial equality and history made her better than Rufus—and that her knowledge would save her in his world. The wounds on her back make her realize that prejudice, whether it is against blacks or Jews, is very real, and very dangerous. She is no longer just a player in a play; she is living something very real and tangible.
Part 3, pp. 117-120
Dana is home eight days when she is called back to Rufus’s time. She finds herself in the woods, where Rufus—now about eighteen—is being beat up by a black man who appears to be protecting a black woman from Rufus. Rufus is losing the fight, and Dana knows she must stop him from being killed, or her life will never happen.
Dana learns that the black man is Isaac Jackson, and the woman he is protecting is Alice, his wife, the same “Alice” who was a little girl last time Dana appeared. Five years have passed. In the meantime, Rufus has decided he “wants” Alice, and he has tried to have her husband sold away. When Alice kept refusing him, Rufus decided to rape her.
Before Isaac and Alice run away, Alice tells Dana that Kevin went away, up North, and Rufus knows where he is. Dana is crushed that Kevin left, but she must focus on Rufus right now. She smells his breath and determines that he has been drinking, and she persuades him that she will help him if he tells the others that he was beaten by robbers. Rufus confesses that he raped Alice, that he had to hurt her because she kept saying “no” to him. He tells Dana that once Isaac and Alice are caught, Alice will be whipped and turned into a slave. Dana is appalled that Alice could lose her freedom because she defied a white man. She is also appalled that Rufus, the childhood friend of Alice, could turn on her so thoroughly. Dana wonders what will happen if Rufus turns on her.
Rufus then confesses that he truly loves Alice and would have married her if times were different. She insists that he lie about Isaac beating him. She says that he owes Isaac for not killing him. Rufus asks Dana if she trusts him to lie about Isaac in order to give Alice a chance to escape. Dana says, “‘We should never lie to each other, you and I. It wouldn’t be worthwhile. We both have too much opportunity for retaliation.’” Rufus gets angry and replies, “‘You threaten me, I’ll threaten you. Without me, you’ll never find Kevin.’” Dana, however, refuses to be afraid of his threat. She does not move to go get help for him until he agrees to lie about Isaac.
Five years have passed in Rufus’s world, enough time for Rufus to make the leap from childhood to manhood. The kindness that Dana saw in the child Rufus, however, has become conditional; he is only kind if he gets his way. Otherwise, he punishes those who will not give him what he wants.
Although Rufus has aged, Dana is still older than he is, and she still believes her knowledge makes her something of a mother to him. He is, indeed, like a large and selfish child, but the tantrum he has thrown over Alice has had adult consequences. Dana feels, for the first time, that he might be getting too big for her to handle, and as he gets too big, will she grow smaller? Already he speaks to her as if she were a slave, inferior to him; he places conditions on his “love” for her and makes her understand that if she does not help him, then he will not help her find Kevin.
Part 5, pp. 126-131
Dana walks along the road in the dark, until she comes to Weylin Plantation. She is surprised to find that she almost considers it “home.” She is also surprised to realize that each time she comes back now, she more easily falls into Rufus’s time, as if “some part of me had apparently given up on time-distorted reality and smoothed things out.”
As Dana nears the house, she encounters a white man, Jake Edwards, who is apparently the overseer now. In the house, she informs Weylin about Rufus’s injuries, and he sends Nigel to fetch a wagon. Dana runs into Carrie, who is grown up now, married to Nigel and pregnant. Dana is pleased to see Nigel grown up into a fine man.
After Nigel, Weylin, and Dana return to the house with Rufus, Weylin confronts Dana. In his taciturn way, he admits that he finds Dana spooky, but that he acknowledges her strange connection to Rufus. He tells her that she may stay on the plantation and “work” by caring for Rufus. He also tells her Kevin has been back looking for her once, and he will probably come again.
Part 6, pp. 131-143
Dana cares for Rufus, but she is alarmed to discover that he has a fever and severe pain. She gives him some of her aspirins. Nigel comes to tell her that the doctor is delayed and Dana is to stay with Rufus all night. Mr. Weylin, he says, thinks Dana “‘know enough to do some doctoring. More than doctoring, maybe.’”
The next morning, Rufus’s fever is gone, and he shares his breakfast with Dana, a gesture that would make Weylin furious if he found out. Rufus, however, says that because Dana belongs to him now, he will keep his father from punishing her for anything. He says Weylin is a “fair man,” and will abide by his son’s wishes regarding Dana. They discuss how time has passed in years for Rufus and only in days for Dana, and Dana points out that now that he is grown up, she may not be able to “save” him as easily as she could when he was a child.
Dana asks Rufus to help her contact Kevin. Rufus shows her letters from Kevin that he has kept for her. Rufus says he will write to Kevin for her, but Dana reminds him that she can write her own letters. Rufus, however, will have to mail them, and he promises to do so. The doctor arrives then, and after he “compliments” Dana for being a “smart nigger,” Dana is dismissed.
In the cookhouse, Sarah tells her that Margaret Weylin gave birth to twins that died while Dana was gone. Her health in ruins, she then left to live in Baltimore. She also tells her that Luke was sold, and Dana learns from Rufus that Luke was sold because he “‘thought he was white’” and did whatever he wanted to. Rufus warns Dana not to teach any other slaves to read, or she might be sold, too. Rufus says that Nigel ran away while she was gone, and after his beating he would have been sold, too, except that Rufus talked Weylin into letting Rufus keep him. Dana takes this opportunity to tell Rufus that he does not have to become the sort of slave owner who sells his slaves to punish them.
Rufus allows Dana to use pen and paper to write to Kevin, and while she writes he reads her book on the history of slavery. Dana realizes with horror that by possessing that book, she might be the means of thwarting such heroes as Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. White men could find out about these heroes and stop them, therefore changing history for the worse. Rufus says the book is abolitionist trash and tells her to burn it before Weylin finds it. She does so, but the act reminds her of Nazi book burnings.
Rufus promises to mail her letter to Kevin, if she will also burn her map of Maryland. Dana protests this form of blackmail, but Rufus cleverly tells her that Weylin almost shot Kevin after her disappearance, but Rufus persuaded him to let Kevin stay on the plantation. He says he may not be able to persuade Weylin again if Weylin knows she has a map. Dana has to give in to this logic, although she finds it more like blackmail than logic. Besides, Rufus, tells her, she is “home” and does not need the map.
Slowly and cleverly, Rufus strips Dana of all the modern things she needs to preserve herself: access to Kevin, books about leaders and heroes in the history of slavery, a map of Maryland, even her ink pen. As always, the threat of violence lingers in his meaning; he conveniently recounts what happened to Luke and Nigel, and what might happen to Dana if she is discovered with a map and an abolitionist book. When he uses the word “home” at the end of their discussion, the word has an especially ominous ring to it. “Home” is now a prison for Dana. Slavery is becoming more than physical for her; it is becoming a state of mind.
Part 7, pp. 143-148
Rufus goes to town, apparently to mail Dana’s letter, and while he is gone, Dana and Sarah discuss runaway slaves. Sarah tells her the horrible things that happen to them when they are caught, but Dana tells her that there are those who make it—who will make it—and she thinks Sarah ought to know about them, too. Sarah does not want to hear, though. She has accepted slavery because she is afraid to risk running from it.
Dana understands why Sarah is so complacent when Rufus returns from town with Alice. She and Isaac had been caught, and Alice had been beaten until she was barely alive. Rufus has bought her, and he orders Dana to restore her to health because Weylin will not pay for a doctor for slaves. Dana can only clean her wounds with brine solution and bandage them, but she feels that she can at least do more for Alice than the old slave woman who uses herbs to doctor slaves.
Rufus asks to see the healing wounds on Dana’s own back. She allows him to see them, thinking he might be horrified, but all he says is that she did not get wounds as deep as some slaves get, as deep as Alice has gotten.
Sarah foreshadows what Dana might become if she remains in Rufus’s time too long: complacent. Coming from 1976, Dana finds it hard to understand why anyone would not fight for freedom. She perfectly understands why slaves would risk running away, but the reality of Alice’s wounds make Dana acknowledge why many slaves, like Sarah, would not seek freedom. The punishment for running away is too brutal for most slaves to bear.
Part 8, pp. 148-151
Dana tends Alice’s wounds as well as she can. She is most concerned about the many dog bites Alice has. Apparently, dogs were set loose on her. She warns Rufus, in whose room Alice is kept, to leave Alice alone while she heals. Dana is upset that Rufus “had caused [Alice] trouble, and how he had been rewarded for it. It made no sense. No matter how kindly he treated her now that he had destroyed her, it made no sense.
Dana also gets upset when she finds out that Isaac’s ears had been cut off, and he had been sold to a Mississippi trader, all because Rufus got drunk and raped Alice, whom he supposedly “loves.” Sarah warns Dana not to express her opinion to Rufus, who can still “‘make things mighty hard for you.’” Sarah also warns Dana that Rufus probably did not mail her letter to Kevin; “‘Sometimes Marse Rufe says what will make you feel good—not what’s true,’” she tells Dana.
Part 9, pp. 151-154
Dana tries to find out from Nigel whether Rufus mailed her letter, but he does not know. Dana then asks Rufus directly, but he redirects her question and does not really answer. Dana simply has to trust him.
Slowly, Alice regains her strength and her wits. She begins to ask questions about where she is and what happened to her. Rufus orders Dana not to answer because, as Alice remembers what happened, she will hate Rufus. Right now, she has blocked out his part in her downfall.
Part 10, pp. 154-160
One day, Alice is well enough to leave Rufus’s room. She accompanies Dana to the cookhouse. They find Sarah on her way to Nigel’s cabin (which Rufus allowed Nigel to build), where Carrie is about to give birth. Dana offers to cook the supper for Sarah, and Alice helps by peeling potatoes. Alice asks Dana if she (Alice) is a slave now, and she demands that Dana tell her how she became a slave after being a free woman. Suddenly, Alice’s memory of Isaac and of their capture returns, and she gets hysterical. Dana calms her and gets the supper ready for the Weylins.
After the supper is done, Alice turns on Dana, asking how she could let Alice sleep in Rufus’s room when she knew how Rufus had destroyed her life with Isaac. Dana defends Rufus by saying that he never told anyone that Isaac had beaten him so severely that he almost died; if he had, things would have gone much worse for Isaac. In her terrible anger, Alice calls Dana a “doctor-nigger” and a “white-nigger.” Dana chooses to let her rant because it is “safer for her to vent her feelings on me than on anyone else,” like Rufus.
Despite Dana’s best efforts to be true to herself, she is slipping into the mentality of slavery. Just as she does Sarah’s job, so she finds herself also sounding like Sarah, glossing over the realities. Alice does not know, of course, that Dana is protecting Rufus because her own future is at stake, but Alice clearly sees that Dana has figured out the number one rule slaves must abide by: do what the master says, and the master won’t harm you. If not, expect a violent punishment.