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Human Condition

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Human Condition

As Dana soon discovers, the reality of slavery is even more disturbing than its portrayal in books, movies, and television programs. Before her journey into the past, Dana called the temp agency where she worked a "slave market," even though "the people who ran it couldn't have cared less whether or not you showed up to do the work they offered."

This turns out to be an ironic contrast to life at the Weylin plantation, where a slave who visits his wife without his master's permission is brutally whipped. Perhaps a more painful realization for Dana is how this cruel treatment oppresses the mind. "Slavery of any kind fostered strange relationships," she notes, for all the slaves feel the same strange combination of fear, contempt, and affection toward Rufus that she does.

At first she has difficulty comprehending Sarah's patience with a master who has sold off three of her children. Likewise, she observes that Isaac Greenwood "was like Sarah, holding himself back, not killing in spite of anger I could only imagine. A lifetime of conditioning could be overcome, but not easily."

"After being beaten following her attempt to run away, however, Dana is tormented by doubts about her own resistance: "Why was I so frightened now--frightened sick at the thought that sooner or later, I would have to run again? ... I tried to get away from my thoughts, but they still came. See how easily slaves are made? they said."

In the end, however, Dana realizes that she cannot bring herself to accept slavery, even to a man who would not physically hurt her. "A slave was a slave. Anything could be done to her," Dana thinks as she sinks the knife into Rufus' side.

Choices and Consequences

The whole reason behind Dana's travels into the past is survival. Dana finds herself driven to save Rufus not just to ensure his existence but also that of her whole family. Despite her modern education, Dana doubts that she has the strength and endurance that her ancestors had: "To survive, my ancestors had to put up with more than I ever could," she tells Kevin.

On her second trip to the past, her squeamish-ness keeps her from defending herself from a pa-troller. The next time, however, she is ready to maim to escape: "I could do it now. I could do anything." Nevertheless, she finds it ironic that her job is to protect a white man: "I was the worst possible guardian for him--a black to watch over him in a society that considered blacks subhuman, a woman to watch over him in a society that considered women perennial children."

Despite her doubts, she manages to save Ru-fus on several different occasions, and learns more about survival in the process. As she listens to the field hands talking in the cookhouse and observes the other house slaves, she gains information: "Without knowing it, they prepared me to survive."

The drive for survival is very strong, and for slaves this means making many painful choices. "Mama said she'd rather be dead than be a slave," Alice recalls, but Dana disagrees: "Better to stay alive.... At least while there's a chance to get free." Because she thinks she will have a better chance of survival if she befriends the Weylins, she accepts the role of slave during her stay on the plantation. As long as this is her choice and she still has some semblance of control over her life, she finds she can endure more than she ever anticipated.

Accepting this role, however, means that Dana must make some very painful choices. For instance, she agrees to convince Alice to sleep with Rufus willingly because she does not want to see her suffer another beating. She is a quiet and compliant worker, even though this makes the other slaves look at her suspiciously. As she explains to Sam, the field hands "aren't the only ones who have to do things they don't like to stay alive and whole." It is only when Rufus tries to take away the final bit of control she has--control over her body--that Dana kills him.

Appearances and Reality

The strange nature of their time travels causes Dana and Kevin to examine how much their perceptions truly reflect reality. When Dana returns from her first visit, Kevin has difficulty accepting her explanation



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