Both Dana and Kevin are back in the present, Dana’s back sore since Kevin landed on her. He tells her to get some rest, but first they make love, slowly and tenderly.
Kevin, gone for so long, finds it difficult to adjust to the small things in modern life. Dana also feels like this life is less sharp than that of Rufus’s time. Kevin is quiet but relates a horrible moment when he saw a woman beaten and her child fall out of her. He tells her about his travels; they both admit that the Weylin place actually felt like a sort of home. Kevin also says he got into trouble for helping slaves escape, which pleases Dana.
Kevin has little outbursts of anger, feeling like he can’t fit in here. He even snaps at Dana and reveals an ugly, closed expression like that of Tom Weylin. He wants to be alone and Dana lets him, even though she feels helpless. She is afraid he might not be able to write again.
While alone, she prepares her bag in case she is sent back. She begins to cook food and listen to the radio, realizing she’d been away for only a few hours and Kevin only eight days. When Kevin comes in, she is quiet but finally asks what she can do to help. He does not have much to say, but suddenly Dana begins to feel the dizziness and yells for him to go get her bag. He says something but she vanishes.
When she wakes, she feels rain on her body and looks around for Rufus. She eventually trips over him lying facedown in a puddle. She grabs him and tries to drag him to Nigel’s house nearby. Nigel carries him to the Weylin house and Weylin himself, old and thin, answers the door. He orders Nigel to bring Rufus in and tells Dana he wants to talk to her.
In the library Weylin comments bitterly that she still looks young. He asks in a softer tone if Kevin made it home, and mutters rudely that he did not mean to help Dana. Her sharp response makes him mad and he calls her a wild animal, growing angrier when it seems like she is threatening him. His breathing becomes raspy and she sees that he is sick. She leaves before he can see her courage fail.
Upstairs Rufus is shivering and uncomfortable with the ague, which Dana thinks is malaria. She knows people in this time do not understand the transmission from mosquitos and she tries to explain to Nigel and asks him to get mosquito netting. After Nigel leaves Dana softly asks Rufus why he keeps trying to kill himself, and he replies that most of the time life is not worth living.
Later, when Dana talks to Weylin about Rufus, the old man stubbornly says she will have to do her job and keep him alive; he does not care if she is devil or witch, but that is her task. Dana is scared, but has Sarah brew a tea and procures her Excedrin bottle and sleeping pills. Finally, Rufus sleeps and feels a little better.
Alice looks a little older, and seems bitterer. Nigel says people are mean to her because she is Master Rufus’s. She also lost two babies but has one named Joe. Dana is frustrated because Hagar is not here yet.
Rufus improves, but one night Dana is called to Weylin. She can tell he had a heart attack, but even though he disgusts her she gives him mouth-to-mouth. It is not successful, though, and Weylin lies on the floor, dead. Rufus is shocked, and claims Dana just let him die.
Things return to normal to a degree, and Dana gets back to helping Sarah and Carrie. Rufus ignores her. She meets Joe and is relieved to see Alice loves the child.
One day Dana realizes how Rufus plans to punish her for Weylin’s death: Fowler, a new overseer, comes and tells her she will work in the field that day. She is given a sickle-like corn knife and told to chop down the stalks. Unsure of what to do, she tries, but is beaten by Fowler. She gets the hang of it but tires herself out to the point that another woman cautions her to slow down. The day drags on and she is in tremendous pain. She stumbles and collapses, and then blacks out.
When she wakes she sees Rufus, who mumbles that she is clearly no good in the fields. When she tries to resist and walk away, he yells in a threatening tone that she should never try to walk away from him again. Dana feels like she wants to cry. Calming down, she tells him he knows she did not kill his father, and he grudgingly admits it. She asks why she was sent to the field and he shrugs that he felt someone had to pay.
He also informs her that his mother is coming home and Dana will take care of her and sleep in her room. She is on laudanum, which scares Dana. She is reluctant do this, but when Margaret returns, friendlier and weaker, she says she wants Dana. Over time Margaret teaches Dana to sew, has her read to her, and run errands. She is mellower; Dana comments, “she depressed me, bored me, angered me, drove me crazy, but my back healed completely while I was with her” (219) and the work was not hard. Alice criticizes her, though, saying Dana loves Margaret and couldn’t handle even one day of fieldwork.
Other slaves are rude to Dana as well, and she wonders why she is so submissive now. She thinks she does not have enough time for herself and no longer acts anymore; this alien time has gotten to her.
She sees a coffle of slaves heading for sale and notices Tess, her old friend, there. She tries to intervene and say goodbye but the white man leading the group tells her to stay back. Tess will not respond to Dana. Rufus calls to Dana to come away, and angrily says he has the right to make this sale, and that his father arranged it before his death.
Dana seeks solace in Carrie and confesses how she feels like a traitor, and sometimes she even feels more white than black. Mutely, Carrie puts her finger to Dana’s face and intimates that the black does not wipe off. Dana hugs her, close to tears.
For days she avoids Rufus but he summons her to the library. He says he’d had dengue fever and they talk about his hypothetical death, with Rufus asking if she knew what would happen to the people here if he died. Dana nods. He says he brought her here to write a few letters. She wonders about this being a bribe or an apology.
Dana completes the task, which deals with his father’s debts, and only works with Margaret part-time. She begins to see that Rufus likes her company.
One night Dana is eating with Alice; Rufus, seeing them, comments drunkenly that they are two halves of the same woman. After he leaves, Alice asks if he has ever taken Dana to bed. Shocked, she says no. Alice replies that Dana gentles Rufus for her, and that Rufus hardly hits her when Dana is around.
Time passes and Dana hopes Alice’s new pregnancy will be Hagar. One night there is a corn husking party among the slaves. Rufus joins them and the slaves play-act like they like him. After he leaves they joke about him. Dana comes to see that they feel the same way about him as she does, and realizes she is not unique. The revelry continues at Christmas. Rufus teases her about finding someone to be with and when she asks what he would do if she did, he says seriously that he would sell the man. It is a strange moment.
Alice persuades Rufus to let Dana teach Joe to read, and Dana is pleased that the boy is smart and curious. Rufus even begins to take an interest in his son now. Later he tells Dana that Alice wants him to free Joe.
Alice comments to Dana wearily how Rufus wants her to actually like him. She intimates she might run away, and Dana agrees to help her but encourages her to think a bit longer. Alice says her mind is made up.
The baby, Hagar, is born. For the first time ever Alice gives Rufus a real, albeit weary, smile. Dana is elated but feels half-free, half-slave. As time goes on and nothing happens, she wonders how long she will be here.
Alice tells Dana she is ready to go even though the baby is so young. The two quarrel a bit and Alice criticizes her for being too white.
Dana asks Rufus if he intends to free Joe and he says yes, but hasn’t decided when to get around to telling Alice. Dana urges him to do so.
Alice agrees to wait until early summer to leave. In the interim, Dana teaches Joe and other children to read. Some white neighbors scold Rufus for letting this happen but he shrugs them off and the school continues. One day a tall slave named Sam James comes to Dana to talk. He had flirted with her at Christmas. While their conversation is fully appropriate, three days later he is taken away in chains.
Horrified, Dana begs Rufus to stop this. Another slave woman screams that Dana is a whore. When Dana pleads with Rufus again, he hits her for the first time. She gets up, angry and betrayed.
She goes upstairs and warms a bath. She puts her bag over her shoulders and slits her wrists.
This section contains significant moments in both the past and the present. In the latter, Kevin’s time away is hinted at; some details are provided, but others, including how he got his scar, are omitted. Kevin’s scar is a symbol of how he too, even though is a white man, is marked by the 19th century. Back in the present Kevin seems to have both learned more about the realities of race relations, but also has come to resemble Tom Weylin a bit more. This reinforces the undeniable racial division of black and white, and how even the most progressive, intelligent white person can still not fathom what it is like to be black or how their whiteness privileges them.
In the past, Dana saves the dissolute Rufus’s life once again, but can do nothing for his sick and elderly father. With Tom Weylin’s death, Rufus officially assumes his father’s role. He had been demonstrating some of the same personality tendencies but now has the power of the plantation behind him. There are some differences, though: Rufus allows Dana’s school to proceed even when his neighbors urge him to stop it, and he clearly has deep feelings for Dana and Alice, something his father would not have developed. These disturbing feelings foreshadow the end of the novel, for it is clear that Rufus is conflating Alice and Dana and is unable to ignore his sexualized feelings for his relative.
It is easy to focus on race and slavery as the most incisive aspects of the novel, but Butler has a lot to say about gender as well. There have been many feminist readings of the novel, such as Linh U. Hua’s article which puts forth a thesis of “Dana’s personal rise and fall (or more literally, her fall and rise) operates in tandem with the exploitative values of a patriarchal speculative economy.” Hua identifies the relationship between Alice and Dana as the crux of the feminist politics Butler advances. Unfortunately, Dana often takes on the role of a spectator or voyeur when it comes to Alice, and does not use her agency to establish a relationship with her ancestor. It should have not been surprising to Dana that Alice did not wave back at her when she and Kevin were preparing to leave. Dana and Alice may seem like two halves of the same woman, but whereas Alice is raped, Dana is not; whereas Alice loses her selfhood and literally kills herself, Dana kills Rufus and returns to her life. Of course, it is certainly possible that Alice mourns Dana’s imminent absence, as she had done much to help Dana. Hua writes, “Alice holds Dana accountable for an affective structure, a cycle, a history that she produces under the guise of reproduction…Alice’s censure exposes a cycle of deferred rescue that rightfully implicates Dana. Time and history do not excuse empty promises of love the first or last time. They did not excuse Rufus’s turn to power, or the violence enacted by Dana’s ambivalence.”
Another scholar, Angelyn Mitchell, also takes up the feminist framework. She classifies the novel as a “liberatory narrative” in which a contemporary narrative seeks to “recuperate the past by engaging the tradition of emancipatory narrative” and discusses how Dana can be read as a heroic figure and whose rebirth is central to the novel. In terms of Dana and her double, though, Dana has control over her sexuality in the 20th century, whereas Alice does not in the 19th century. This asserts the fact that “the institution of slavery commodifies black female sexuality in its attempt to perpetuate itself and to satisfy the lust of its agents.” In slavery, a woman is utterly devalued for her humanity; Fowler’s whipping of Dana across the breasts is evidence of this. Black women do not get to engage in the “cult of true womanhood” that was common in this time period; they are outside the patriarchal structure yet completely victimized by it.
Both Dana and Alice are vulnerable, but Alice is more so. Alice cannot have her own desires (Isaac being one of them), and her body is bought and controlled by Rufus. She does resist in the way that she can, which is first psychologically and then by running away. It is when she (seemingly) loses her role as mother that she gives up and offers her life up as the ultimate way to resist the dehumanizing system of slavery. That motherhood that is central to Alice is significant to Dana as well, who, even though she does not have children, takes on a mothering role several times in the text. Mitchell writes that through this “Butler rewrites the disparaging, stereotyped ‘Mammy’ image,” but ultimately “motherhood for enslaved black women complicates their lives in ways that are fundamentally insurmountable.” Slaves do not get to embrace gender roles and biological roles that they may want to; instead, they have to work with the community of other slaves to create meaning and connection amid slavery. Dana learns this as she moves from embracing the community of Weylin’s slaves for utilitarian purposes to doing so for actual sustenance.