Over the past few posts, I’ve been examining Jupiter Evans’ and Sally Hemings’ narrative arcs in Rodney Barnes and Jason Shawn Alexander’s Killadelphia. Specifically, I’ve been looking at the ways that the histories of Jupiter and Sally get filtered through white perspectives and the counters to the white perspective through Jupiter’s telling of his own history. We do not see Sally’s perspective directly, and we do not get a lot of her perspective from Jupiter. However, Abigail provides us with a detailed discussion of how she views her relationship with Sally, and I began looking at this in the last post. Today, I want to finish up this discussion by looking at the ways that Abigail, while claiming to free Sally, actually continues to subjugate and oppress her.

As Jupiter runs towards Abigail to kill her, she begins to reflect “on better times” as she looks at a tattoo on her arm and then closes her eyes. For Abigail, it was a time of happiness and love, and we see her moving backwards towards that time as Jupiter moves towards her. In the final panel of the sequence, we see Jupiter’s silhouette on the left, racing towards Abigail and we see, on the right, a closeup on Abigail’s face, her eyes closed, thinking back in time. Her face looks serene, as if resigned to her fate. She thinks about, as she narrates, a time she was “in love.” A few pages later, we find out that her love was Sally Hemings.

Since John was taking a sabbatical, Abigail felt that her and Sally “had all the time in the world” to express their love for another. We see them enjoying themselves at a carnival in the twentieth century, getting matching tattoos, kissing on the Ferris wheel, and more. Abigail reflects on how Sally felt “tentative” at first but began to open up. Their love “strengthened, continuing to defy the era’s mindset.” It’s not clear here if Abigail is referring to interracial intimacy, their lesbianism, or both. We don’t see any outward expressions from others condemning the relationship. However, that does not necessarily matter. What matters is that Abigail is thinking about the ways that others view them together, even when that love, in Abigail’s view gets strengthened through the adversity. even when that love, in Abigail’s view gets strengthened through the adversity.

As we see a silhouette of Sally and Abigail kissing on a Ferris wheel, Abigail confesses, “The love I felt for Sally was far deeper that any I’d known to that point.” The next panel shows them walking away from the carnival, Sally smiling with joy as Abigail, appearing to hold Sally’s arm, looks unsure. In fact, in each panel at the carnival where we see Abigail’s face, she appears listless and doesn’t seem to be looking at Sally. Abigail thought about leaving John, and we see her looking at John’s crypt as she contemplates killing him with a wooden stake, but she can’t bring herself to do it. She resigns herself to the feeling that no matter who she chooses, Sally or John, it “would bring heartache.”

Abigail agonizes over what to do, but ultimately she chooses to return to John. When she tells Sally this, we see a full page image of Abigail’s face, eyes closed, facing the left of the page and two panels on the right over the first image. The first panel shows Abigail opening the door to what appears to be her and Sally’s apartment and the second shows Sally, tears streaming down her face, looking out the window as we see Abigail’s silhouette in the door frame. Abigail tells us, “There’s the way we want it, and the way it has to be. Although my live for Sally is greater, my commitment to John is greatest.” If Abigail loves Sally more than John, why does she choose to return to John and leave Sally? She uses the term “commitment” here, and that is important. Is she committed to John? Or, is she committed to his position of power and what it can do for her? I’d say the latter. She knows what her closeness to white patriarchy can do for her, so she chooses John.

Sally confronts Abigail. She turns from the window, points a finger directly at Abigail, and says, “That’s the same thing Thomas said to me so very long ago. There was always a great reason why I didn’t deserve to be treated with dignity.” Here, we, as the reader, are in Abigail’s position. We see the back of her head, and Sally’s finger comes towards us. Sally’s words highlight that Abigail returns to John specifically because of his position, and Abigail’s choice, as well, highlights the ways that she used Sally for her own pleasure, thus subjugating her in the same way that Jefferson did. Sally concludes by telling Abigail. “Just know that when you tell yourself that you love me, you’re telling yourself a lie.”

The next panel shows John coming out of his coffin as Abigail hugs him. In the background, we see Jupiter, with his spit guard on, watching over them. Abigail narrates, “There’s not one moment that goes by that I wish I hadn’t let Sally leave. But it is what it is. Now with John gone, we can be together.” (In the present, John has left Abigail.) Abigail tries to justify her actions in her mind, but she can only justify them in relation to the presence or absence of John. Returning to the present, we see Jupiter charging at Abigail as she stands, finger to her chin, and thinks, “But only if I say . . .”

The next page is a splash page showing Abigail punch Jupiter, knocking him backwards as she completes the previous thought with an emphatic, “No.” What does Abigail say “no” too? She fights with Jupiter, bites a chunk out of his arm, and as he stands there, bleeding from the bite and the battle, he looks down at the ground and tells her, “You never loved.” Abigail reaches into his throat and tells him, “You’re right.” Here, Abigail shows the ways she dehumanizes Jupiter and Sally. She claims to have loved each of them, in different ways, but we know, through her actions, that she only thought she loved them. Instead, she acted, constantly, out of her own self-interest and greed, using her whiteness and her proximity to power, through John, to try and achieve her goals and maintain her positions. She acted the same way as Jefferson, treating Jupiter and Sally not as people and equals but as individuals solely placed in her orbit for her benefit. She enslaved them in her own way.

There’s a lot more to say, but I’ll leave it there. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on twitter @silaslapham.

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