Summary: The Rope, Part 1
Dana tells Kevin what Carrie said about the slaves being sold if Rufus were to die. Kevin is surprised by Carrie’s smarts; he assumed she was mentally delayed. He says Dana has an easy decision to make. Dana asks what he wants her to do. He doesn’t say anything, and Dana demands to know how she can do it if he can’t even say it. The implication is that Kevin wants her to kill Rufus.
Summary: The Rope, Part 2
Dana is back in 1976 for fifteen days. She and Kevin are happy to be reunited. One day, though, he accuses her of wanting to go back to Maryland and asks whether Rufus raped her. She says that she is willing to seem like property, but she is not willing to be property. If she has to live with limited freedom, Rufus has to refrain from violating her. Kevin believes her, although he does not understand what she is saying. Dana says she worries that if she lets Rufus die, she will not be able to get home.
Summary: The Rope, Part 3
On the Fourth of July, Dana returns to the Weylins’. Rufus looks exhausted, but he doesn’t look much older. Dana has only been away for three months. Rufus leads her to the barn. Inside, she finds Alice, dead, hanging from a rope. Dana cuts Alice’s body down. Rufus returns and tells her that Alice committed suicide. Sarah tells Dana that Alice tried to run away and Rufus sold Joe and Hagar, driving Alice half mad with grief. Dana goes to Rufus and finds him holding a handgun. She wonders if she was sent back to prevent him from killing himself. Rufus tells her he didn’t really sell the children; he sent them to his aunt in Baltimore to frighten Alice and convince her not to leave him. Dana blames him for Alice’s death and says freeing Joe and Hagar is the least he can do.
Summary: The Rope, Part 4
The day after Alice’s funeral, Rufus takes Dana to town to witness him freeing his children. Joe now calls Rufus “Daddy,” instead of “Master.” Dana tries to convince Rufus to free all his slaves in his will, but Rufus says she might kill him if he does that. Dana hadn’t considered the possibility. Rufus says he has nightmares about her leaving him alone to suffer and die. She refuses to promise him she would never do such a thing. Then he says that he sold Sam because he wanted Dana. The sexual content of the remark scares Dana. Rufus grabs her and tells her she looks so much like Alice he can’t stand it. She gets away and hurries to the attic, where she gets out her knife. Rufus follows her. He apologizes to her for the first time in their lives. He wonders aloud how long it will take her to stop hating him. He lies with his arm around her, and for a few moments she thinks it would not be so bad to sleep with him. Then she decides she can’t be his lover. She stabs him twice. He screams, and Nigel comes in. Rufus goes limp, his hand on Dana’s arm. She time travels home. Her arm is fused to the wall exactly where Rufus’s hand gripped it.
As soon as Dana is well, Kevin and Dana go back to Maryland in present time. The Weylin house is gone. They find a newspaper article describing the sale of the Weylin estate, including the slaves, after Rufus’s death in a fire. Dana figures Nigel set the fire to cover up her murder of Rufus. Kevin and Dana can’t find a record of what happened to Hagar and Joe, although Dana knows that Hagar lived long enough to be freed by the amendment to the Constitution. She can find no record of Nigel and Carrie’s sale.
Analysis: The Rope and Epilogue
Dana is mostly pleased about the state of her marriage, but Butler does not allow us to share her happiness. In the final section of the novel, Kevin continues to come across as a well-meaning but self-involved and limited man. He isn’t brave enough even to speak the word kill, much less make a convincing case to Dana that she should slay Rufus. Butler makes it clear that Dana is right: Kevin would never have the courage to murder Rufus. He is a good man, but he has none of Dana’s backbone and grit. Kevin is also irrationally fixated on his wife’s recent sexual history, sulking about the possibility that she has slept with Rufus. When she reassures him, he is far less interested in her perceptive remarks about sex and property than he is in whether he can trust her when she says that she and Rufus haven’t slept together. There is no doubt that Kevin is in most ways a better man than Rufus, and that he is a more appropriate mate for Dana. Yet in this final section of the novel, it is also clear that Dana feels far more passionately about Rufus—passionate hatred, passionate love, passionate violence—than she does about her husband.