The Water Dancer

The Water Dancer Summary and Analysis of Chapters 28 – 31


Hiram returns to Lockless to work as his father’s servant. He finds that the decline of Lockless has accelerated and he no longer recognizes most of the remaining Tasked. His father, who has aged rapidly, cries upon seeing Hiram and says it was a mistake to let him go.

Hi goes to see Thena in the Warrens and apologizes for mistreating her. Thena hardly looks at him but acknowledges his apology by grasping his hand and squeezing it tight. A week later, Hiram finally goes to see Sophia, who is living at Thena’s old house on the street. He learns that she has a baby, Caroline, born out of her forced relationship with Nathaniel Walker. The baby has a similar complexion and green eyes as Hiram, since Nathaniel Walker is his uncle. Sophia tells Hiram that so many of the Tasked have been lost to Natchez, and that she thought he was lost to her forever, too. Hiram gifts the toy horse he made for Georgie’s baby to Caroline, whom they call Carrie.

At first, Hiram struggles with his relationship with Sophia. One day he speaks rudely and Thena tells Hi that he is punishing her. Hiram goes to apologize to Sophia and they kiss. Sophia tells him that in order for her to be his, she must never belong to him or to any other man. Eventually, Hiram, Sophia, Caroline and Thena fall into a rhythm together. Thena has hired herself out to do the laundry of other estates and Hiram begins to help her and Sophia with this labor. The agreement is for Thena to split payments with Howell so as to one day purchase her freedom. Meanwhile, in the evenings Hiram tends the fire and drinks cider with his father. Howell speaks of his regrets and the old glory of Lockless.

One Sunday, when Thena is watching over Caroline, Hiram and Sophia drink rum and share stories of what happened after their failed escape. Sophia explains that that night at Ryland’s Jail, Corrine Quinn showed up. She told Sophia that she could help her return to Lockless so long as she occasionally gave Corrine intelligence on what was going on at the estate. This is what Sophia has done ever since. Sophia and Hiram finally open up about their love for one another and Hiram stays with her all night. At dawn, Hiram takes the toy horse and goes down to the river Goose, where he is able to use the object and its associated story to perform Conduction.

Sophia and Hiram continue to develop their relationship. Sophia has a hunch that Hiram has been places and isn’t revealing everything about his time away. But Hiram isn’t ready to reveal the truth yet. One day, Nathaniel Walker returns and Hiram must drive Sophia to visit him. Yet when they arrive, a Tasked man informs Sophia that he cannot see her and will send word. They are relieved but worried about what this means. They speak of running away but Sophia says she cannot do so without a certain plan.

When they return to Lockless, they find Thena with a bandage wrapped around her head. Someone has stolen the money that Thena has been saving and destroyed her room. After this, Thena and Hiram move into the house on the Street with Sophia and Caroline. They attend to Thena, with Sophia taking on the task of the laundry and Hiram helping her.

When the winter holidays come, Corrine brings a collection of cousins and friends to Lockless to accompany Howell. In reality, these are agents of the Underground. Hiram tells Corrine that it is time to get Thena and Sophia out. Corrine tells Hiram that now is not the time, since there are a great many things in the works. She pleads with Hi not to jeopardize the Underground and its agents. She also explains that Nathaniel Walker is no longer interested in Sophia. In fact, a year ago he sold her to Corrine, and Sophia’s title is to be transferred over in one week’s time. Yet Hiram is not relieved, and he is determined to make good on his promises.


When Hiram returns to Lockless, Howell Walker tells him that “I am an old man, but I am, too, a new one.” He explains that the two mistakes he made in his life were letting go of Hiram’s mother and letting go of Hiram. Later, as Howell and Hiram drink cider by the fire, Howell “comes as close as he could come to an admission, and apology,” for the way that he separated Hiram from his mother. Hiram reflects that even as they sit together in an intimate setting, his father is not capable of looking him in the eye and speaking the truth. “His world—the world of Virginia—was built on a foundation of lies.” Hiram feels that Howell could not bear to admit to those lies and have the whole foundation come tumbling down.

When Hiram moved from the Street to the house at Lockless, he understood the deception of the Quality. He realized that they elaborately concealed the labor of the Tasked to hide the fact that their whole society depends on it. And he saw his father as a participant in that society based on lies. Now that he is back at Lockless, Hiram deepens this reflection to the most intimate realm of his personal life: his own relationship with his father. He sees that his father has not only built an entire apparatus to hide his own weakness, just like the rest of the Quality. He is also incapable of looking his own son in the eye and speaking the truth.

Hiram’s reunion with Sophia puts his new thinking on relationships and women’s rights to the test. When he learns that she had a baby with Nathaniel Walker, Hiram says that “one half of me wanted to get away from Sophia, to never speak to her again, to disappear into the Underground and cut away that girl who would not be my Sophia.” This is the same reaction he saw in Robert, who wanted to escape from Mary rather than humiliating his sense of manhood by raising another man’s child.

Yet Hiram feels that another part of him is “shocked to find such resentment still curdling in me.” This is because he has reflected on his own origins from an enslaved mother and white father, and he has learned to think differently through his participation in the Underground. Still, Coates demonstrates that having a newfound perspective is easier in theory than in practice, and that the process of maturing comes with growing pains. As Hiram puts it, he “must now struggle to take his own medicine,” and work through the lingering resentment he still feels about Sophia’s baby.

After someone steals the money that Thena has been saving and destroys her room, Thena, Hiram, and Sophia move into the house on the Street together. Thena sleeps in her old bed downstairs, and Sophia and Hiram sleep in the loft where Hi once slept as a child. In this way, Coates presents the house on the Street as a strong symbol of found family. Years ago, when Howell Walker sold Hiram’s mother, Hiram went to live at Thena’s house. He was alone, and she accepted the role of caring for him. In this way, she became like a mother to him.

Years later, as Thena grows older and faces the trauma of being attacked and robbed, Hiram and Sophia take her in and watch over her. They all care for each other and for Caroline together, forming a sort of family unit. Throughout The Water Dancer, Coates emphasizes the way that people, some of whom are not blood relatives, form loving, familial bonds to support one another in adverse situations.