“[The slaves] seemed to like [Rufus], hold him in contempt, and fear him all at the same time. . . . I had thought my feelings were complicated because he and I had such a strange relationship. But then, slavery of any kind fostered strange relationships.”
This quotation, from part 11 of “The Storm,” is inspired by the slaves’ behavior toward Rufus at the husking party. Rufus has just doled out whiskey and good food. The slaves shower Rufus with gratitude to his face and ridicule him behind his back. Dana is surprised to find that the slaves feel the same simultaneous and contradictory emotions toward Rufus that she herself feels. They, like she, feel both affection and hatred for Rufus. A lifetime of enslavement has beaten submissiveness into the slaves, and they can’t help but appreciate the little scraps Rufus throws them, the food and alcohol, the small mercies, the occasional gesture of goodwill. At the same time, though, they despise him. In the same way, Dana half-loves Rufus. She is grateful for his occasional kindness, and she can’t help but feel affection for him. At the same time, she loathes him. Dana recognizes in this passage that she is not as different from the slaves as she thought she was, at least in her attitude toward Rufus.