The most logical explanation for Dana’s severed arm is perhaps that: she’s lost an intimate part of herself back in the 18th century, where Rufus held her and attempted to rape her–an irreparable physical disfiguration. In addition, she is both permanently marked and affected by her heritage.
Overall I feel this novel defies a lot of literary stereotypes such as the ruthless slave owner. Tom Weyline whips his slaves only because it was normal for him to do so–of course, I do not condone the engagement and execution of such physical violence. Given that the 18th century was an extremely racist time, this kind of racial prejudices and inequality governed and dominated that century as ideals of freedom and equality dominate our century. Or is freedom just an illusion in our times as well?
Rufus’ character is incredibly complex. His destructive love (and frequently unrequited) for the women in his life is perhaps, redeems him as a character. Violent, abusive and tyrannical–such is the nature of his love. Many times in the novel Rufus becomes the villain, punishing Dana for defying him or provoking him. Perhaps it is useful to examine the relationship with his mother. He gives little regard of her anyway, dismissing her hysterical concerns with sharp words. “Why not?” Mrs. Weylin forgives him anyway. What is the reason behind her tolerance? Her insecurity, her haunting sense of inadequacy and low self-esteem? After all, she can’t read or write, which somehow levels her status with the slaves, who are also incapable of both. What would happen if Mr. Weylin finds out that she’s been “disciplining” his son? I think Rufus holds a lot of power towards Mrs. Weylin’s survival. After all, what else she could do other than be an indulgent mother and a pretty wife?
Another thing I want to mention in this entry is that usually time travelling or stories that involve supernatural experiences will inevitably isolate the protagonist from the world and others. Dana experiences one travel with Kevin, however, and Kevin believes her–the usual “mentally unstable or insane” trope does not occur in this novel, which I find refreshing. We go through so many instances when the main character is disbelieved and deemed crazy; it’s good to have a change.
Last thing: In response to Mitchell’s article, I agree that Dana represents a process of healing historical wounds. Her journey to the past is an allegory, a story about moving forward. Slavery cannot be erased, this part of history is set in stone. The way to dissolve the historical tension is not to overlook and attempt to forget about it, but rather, to face it as a collective: both black and white people, as both Dana and Kevin travel back in time. I have no doubt that Dana is the “healer”, since every time she goes back in time, she saves Rufus (saving her own heritage to ensure her own survival and existence), she brings medicine from the 20th century, and she saves Alice by dutifully nursing her. In other words, Dana has no choice (although she’s not entirely reluctant, either) but to help save Rufus and Alice–I think this is a deliberate choice of the author to make this healing process mandatory–because without Rufus and Alice, there will be no Dana. In other words (I am using this phrase way too often), Butler proposes that America must address racism and admitting, facing the damages that are done from racism in order to be completely healed, and whole again.