Kindred : Summary: Chapter 6
Chapter Six, “The Rope,” pp. 240-261
Part 1, pp. 240-243
Dana wakes up in bed next to Kevin. She does not remember him calling a doctor friend to come bandage her wrists. He tells her that the doctor believes she needs psychiatric counseling, and if she tries to kill herself again, she will need to be institutionalized. Dana bitterly thinks that even a psychiatric facility would be better than slavery.
Kevin tells her she has been gone three hours, but for Dana it was eight months. She tells him that Hagar has at last been born and she is not sure what will happen next. Kevin tells her that “‘it doesn’t seem to me that you have such a difficult decision ahead of you.” Dana tells him that if something happens to Rufus, all of the slaves will be worse off because they will be sold. Kevin’s silence tells her what he thinks she needs to do. Dana replies to that silence: “Kevin, if you can’t even say it, how can you expect me to do it?”
Part 2, pp. 243-247
Kevin and Dana spend fifteen days together, from June 19 to July 3. They renew their relationship and meld back into the twentieth century, but Dana lives in constant preparation for going back to Rufus’s time. She knows that her nightmare will not end until Rufus is dead. Kevin, on the other hand, worries about Rufus’s growing sexual interest in Dana. Dana reassures him that she does not share Rufus’s interest. She tells him that Rufus would not dare cross that boundary because he needs her to stay alive, and he knows that if he rapes her, she will either kill him or herself. If she dies, his protector dies.
Kevin asks Dana if she will kill Rufus or let him die next time she goes back. She is not sure. She worries that if she kills him she might not be able to get back home. “‘All this started with him, after all,”” she tells Kevin. “‘I don’t know whether I need him or not. And I won’t know until he’s not around.’”
Dana, the woman who slit her own wrists out of desperation, must now find it in herself to murder Rufus. That task is not so straightforward, however, when Dana considers how Rufus’s murder would affect the other slaves. Slavery is, in a sense, protecting Rufus. To murder him would seem to be a selfish act on Dana’s part. She would topple the lives of innocent slaves if she removed him from their lives. The old Dana would not have struggled with this question. She would have said that Rufus was a slaveholder; therefore he is the “bad guy” and should be punished. Now, however, she understands the symbiotic relationship between master and slave. If the host dies, so to speak, then the parasite dies, too. If the master dies, then the slaves might pass on, too; or if the slaves die, the master might not make it. She has learned about this symbiosis from her own relationship with Rufus; if one of them dies, then the other will too. If Rufus had died, Dana would never have existed. If Dana had died, then Rufus’s existence was in jeopardy. She has never quite understood why she cared for Rufus, but she is beginning to understand that it was because they were, like slave and master, linked in a life or death relationship, whether they liked it or not. This is a relationship that Kevin cannot understand. He has regained historical perspective; he cannot see that killing Rufus is like killing a part of herself for Dana.
Part 3, pp. 247-251
Dana and Kevin are invited to the Rose Bowl with friends on July 4, but Dana is afraid to leave the house. And sure enough, just as the friends leave, Dana time travels.
Dana finds herself on the ground, near an ant hill. Rufus trips over her, and she realizes that not much time has seemed to pass for him, yet he looks haggard and shaken. He leads her to the barn, where she sees that Alice has hung herself.
Later, Dana finds out from Sarah that Alice had run away as planned, but she had been caught and whipped. Then Rufus took her children away. That was the final straw for her.
Dana looks for Rufus and comes upon him in the library with a gun. She wonders if he had been considering suicide, and that was what called her back this time. Is she supposed to talk him out of it? He tells her that he did not sell Alice’s children, as Alice assumed. Instead, he sent them to his family in Baltimore to scare her. Dana demands that Rufus now retrieve the children and give them their free papers. Rufus does not, for the moment, do anything.
Alice has come to the same conclusion as Dana did when she slit her wrists: the only real escape from slavery, in the absence of hope, is suicide. Rufus, Dana can see, might kill himself now that Alice is gone; the parasite might die now that the host is gone. She thinks Rufus is weak now, waning, and she tries to assert control over him.
Part 4, pp. 252-261
After Alice’s funeral, Rufus agrees to bring the children back, if Dana will care for them. Dana refuses; she does not want the children growing attached to someone who could suddenly disappear.
When Rufus returns with the children, Dana is pleased and surprised to see that Rufus allows Joe to call him “Daddy.” She decides to persuade Rufus to free all his slaves in his will. Rufus says he cannot do that because then she would just kill him to free everyone. He confesses that he has nightmares about her. “‘. . . in my nightmares, you leave without helping me. You walk away and leave me in trouble, hurting, maybe dying,’” he tells Dana. Dana senses that he wants her to promise not to do such a thing, but she cannot. Why should he trust her, when she cannot trust him, she asks Rufus. Why should she trust a white man who sold away a black man just because he talked to her?
The discussion turns to Sam James. Rufus confesses that he sold the man because he wanted Dana. Rufus, using his usual subtle threats, tells Dana that if she truly cares about the children, she will stay. And, he says, he will not hurt her. He grasps her, and tells her she reminds him of Alice; he needs to possess Dana now, like he needed to possess Alice.
He hesitates and lets go of her, and Dana makes her way to her attic room. Rufus, however, follows her and begins to apologize, but Dana is suspicious. She falters in her suspicion when Rufus describes how lonely he is without Alice. Loneliness is something Dana knows about. Until Kevin came along, she was miserably lonely.
Rufus sits down with Dana on her pallet. He asks Dana if she ever hated him. She says “‘never for long. I don’t know why. You worked hard to earn my hatred, Rufe.’” He says Alice hated him from the first time he raped her, but she seemed to stop hating him right before Hagar’s birth. “‘I wonder how long it will take you,’” he tells Dana.
With horror, she realizes then that he means to rape her, too. She tries to remind him that he has children to live for. He tries to turn her logic back on her by saying it is up to her to keep him alive to support those children.
Rufus, however, seems intent on coaxing her into sex, rather than brutally raping her. Dana is suddenly confused. “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 I had saved so many times.”
Dana comes to her senses and reminds herself what she has learned: “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.”
She struggles then, and when Rufus responds, she stabs him in the side, then in the back. Nigel appears just in time to see Rufus give a “long, shuddering sigh” and fall limp across Dana, his hand still on her arm.
Suddenly, she time travels, but this time it is different. Something is wrong with her arm, “as though somehow my arm were being absorbed into something. Something cold and nonliving.” Dana then finds herself back home, but her arm is caught in a wall in her house, exactly where Rufus had touched her. The only way she can free herself, she finds, is to pull—and to leave her arm inside the wall.
Epilogue, pp. 262-264
Once Dana recovers, she and Kevin fly to Maryland to seek out the Weylin plantation. They are not successful, however. The house is gone, and they cannot find Rufus’s grave. They learn from an old newspaper article that Rufus is said to have died in a house fire, his estate was sold, and all his slaves were sold. Joe and Hagar are not listed, however, among his slaves. Dana wonders if Margaret took them, or perhaps Rufus had made a will freeing them. Dana feels terrible that the slaves had to suffer because she killed Rufus, but Kevin tells her there is nothing she can do to change that.
They talk about how they each had to come back to Maryland to reassure themselves that what happened to them was real and that they are, indeed, sane. “‘And now that the boy is dead, we have some chance of staying that way,’” says Kevin.
Dana at last severs herself from the symbiotic relationship she held with Rufus. She realizes that she was the host, not Rufus, and that she had to sever the connection in order to survive. She cannot worry about the consequences for the other slaves, although it will always haunt her. She does not escape the relationship whole, however. The arm that cradled and enabled Rufus, that he tried to own, stays with Rufus. She bears a physical reminder of the reality of slavery, both of its physical and mental brutality and of its complicated, interdependent nature.