The Water Dancer

The Water Dancer Summary and Analysis of Chapters 24 - 27


Hiram finds a secret hiding place for Harriet to rest while she recovers. He himself hides deeper in the woods. At night, Hiram returns to the hiding place and Harriet wakes up. She gives Hiram some additional pieces of information about Conduction. She explains that it was a known practice among African elders. The practice must involve water. And those who use the power must know the territory where they are going, and must know something about the person they are going to conduct.

Harriet and Hiram go to the home of a man named Chase Piers. There they meet Harriet’s brothers, Ben and Henry, along with Henry’s wife, Jane, who has cut her hair short to disguise herself as a man. The plan is for Hiram to get Robert, another brother of Harriet’s, who chose to remain with his wife until the last possible moment because they have a baby on the way. The whole group will meet at Harriet’s parents’ home the following night. Hiram follows secret signs through the woods and arrives at the plantation of Master Broadus before sunrise on Sunday. He instructs Robert to meet him in the woods at nightfall, but at the agreed-upon time, Roberts doesn’t show up.

Hiram goes to Robert’s cabin and finds him fighting with his wife, Mary. Robert lies, saying he is going to see his family, but Mary thinks he’s going to visit another woman and doesn’t want to let him leave. Hiram intervenes in a risky but powerful way. He tells Mary that they are conducting Robert because Broadus wants to sell him, and that he will try his best to one day conduct her too. Mary reluctantly lets them leave, and on the way Robert tells his story. He explains to Hiram that the plan was for him to leave Mary behind, due to his humiliation over the fact that she is pregnant with Master Broadus’s child. Hiram helps him to rethink this emotion, and they arrive at the Ross family home by night.

Harriet’s father, Pop Ross, helps to hide them all in the stable and brings them food. They must hide from Harriet’s mother, Ma Rit, because she wears her feelings out front and would likely give them away. After Ma Rit goes to sleep, they go into the woods and begin to follow Harriet across a pond. Harriet tells the story of John Tubman, her first love, whose last name she took as her own. Tubman loved Harriet but would not go north to Philadelphia with her. When she returned, he was with another woman. At first, Harriet planned to take revenge. But Pop Ross helped her to see that she must love those who love her.

The group arrives at the Delaware docks and heads to the Underground’s office with the help of Otha and Kessiah. There Harriet rests while Raymond interviews each of the newcomers and Hiram takes notes. A letter arrives for Hiram from the Virginia station and immediately he knows they are calling for him to work there. Hiram tells Harriet and the others that he will be returning home and they give him their blessings. Hiram also tells Kessiah that he is planning to free Thena.

The whole group sees Hiram off to the station and he boards a train back to the land of slavery that he escaped from. Back at Bryceton, Corrine and Hawkins tell Hiram that his father’s servant, Roscoe, has passed away. Now Howell wants Hiram to be his servant, and the Virginia station wants him to assume the role so as to provide intelligence about Lockless. Hiram agrees to do it, but makes Corrine and Hawkins promise that they will conduct Sophia and Thena to Philadelphia when the time is right.

The following day, Hiram, Hawkins and Corrine make their way to Lockless. Passing through Starfall, Hiram sees that it is desolate and the decline of the area has accelerated. When they arrive at the inn, Hiram learns that Corrine has opened a station of the Underground right there in the heart of Starfall, run by the same white people Hiram once trained with at Bryceton. While the group works at the inn, Hiram visits Freetown, which was destroyed entirely when the Underground took their revenge on Georgie Parks. Hiram finds the wooden horse he made for Georgie’s child and feels a deep sense of shame.


In this section of The Water Dancer, the reader learns more about Hiram’s maternal grandmother, Santi Bess, who also possessed the power of Conduction. Bess had a gift for stories, and it was said that she “could unwind an African tale with such effect that sometimes a first frost would feel like a prairie heat.” For this reason, the Quality called Bess to their parties to perform her stories.

Throughout The Water Dancer, Coates explores the theme of objectification, which means to treat people as if they were objects. In the novel, one important way in which slave-owning society objectifies enslaved people is by using them for their entertainment. When Hiram was young, his father had him perform memory tricks to entertain party guests. And Maynard made Hiram and the Tasked participate in a race as if they were his toys.

Similarly, the Quality made Bess tell stories and tossed coins to her out of amusement. For them, the stories are not meaningful. They are simply an object of entertainment which they acknowledge with an insignificant amount of change. However, Bess’s stories aren’t for sale. She doesn’t keep the change for herself but rather gifts it to children at the estate. There is no price that can measure the value of her stories, which are powerful enough to free people through Conduction.

In this section of The Water Dancer, Coates further develops the theme of forgetting, which is the opposite of the book’s central theme of memory. Harriet tells Hiram that she had an extremely difficult childhood. She performed backbreaking labor from a very young age and her masters beat her daily. Often, she would like to forget those trying times. But she always carries a walking stick made from the branch of a sweet gum tree, which reminds her of the worst days of her life working in the timbers. It is natural for humans to try to forget traumatic events that are often too painful to face. Yet Harriet implies that remaining connected to those painful stories is crucial for the power of Conduction. The walking stick is a symbol of the importance of memory and the danger of forgetting.

Hiram tells Harriet about his frustrating inability to remember his mother. He believes he is trying his hardest to remember. Yet Harriet indicates that there is likely a part of him that is trying with all of its might to forget. She tells him that he must find something outside of himself that can unlock what he has shut away. In this instance of foreshadowing, Coates leaves the reader wondering what Hiram may find to unlock his memories of his mother Rose.

When Hiram goes to the Broadus plantation to pick up Robert, Coates highlights the ways in which the protagonist has matured. One of the major areas in which Hiram grows up and changes his thinking is with respect to masculinity and women’s rights. As they make their way to the Ross family house, Robert opens up to Hiram about his relationship with Mary. Robert feels humiliated that Mary is bearing Master Broadus’s child. He speculates that Mary “surely ain’t stop him” from impregnating her. And he reveals that he didn’t bring Mary to escape with him because “ain’t no way I’m going with some other man child...raising some other man’s baby, it grind on a man in a kinda way….”

Robert’s statements cause Hiram to reflect on the message of the women’s rights advocates he encountered at the abolitionists gathering. Moreover, he reflects on how he himself has participated in “the vast conspiracy to pillage half the world” by creating a possessive image of Sophia in his mind. He realizes that he has been longing for Sophia, not as her own individual person with her own dreams and opinions, but rather for “my Sophia,” a product of his imagination that is subject to his own desires. With his newfound realizations, Hiram helps Robert to see that Mary had no choice but to submit to Broadus’s advances, and that there “ain’t no pure.” Robert is acting out of his own sense of humiliated manhood, rather than out of care for Mary and her child.