Kindred is a 1976 novel by Octavia butler. The novel is a combination of African American literature and science fiction. This is because the book tells the story of slavery from the perspective of 1976 woman. The novel also entails elements of fantasy as it involves time travel and of course acts of heroism by the time traveler.
Dana is a young African American woman who has just moved into her new apartment with her husband Kevin in California. On the ninth of June 1976 as Dana is busy unpacking in their new apartment she suddenly gets dizzy. Her vision gets blurry and all of a sudden her environment seems to slowly fade away. She wakes up in Maryland but there is a twist. It is now the nineteenth century. She notices a young boy called Rufus struggling to get his footing in the river. She quickly dashes in and saves him but he is unconscious by the time she does so. Tom Weylin, the father of Rufus arrives at the scene and almost on instinct alone points his gun at Dana leaving her terrified to say the least. She gets dizzy once again and wakes up home in her apartment in 1976.
She manages to time travel again to 1815 where she finds the bedroom of Rufus burning. She manages to put out the fire and comfort the boy. She leaves the residence and heads to the residence of Alice Greenwood who she suspects may be her direct ancestor. A group of young men attack the residence and beat up the mother of Alice and her husband. One man tries to rape Dana and frightened she gets dizzy and suddenly it is 1976 again. Dana continues a series of time travels even at a point travelling back with her boyfriend Kevin. Apparently she can only travel back when Rufus is in a crisis or when his life is in danger. Her only way to travel back home is for her to get very scared for her life. On her last time travel Rufus attempts to rape her. She stabs him twice in self-defense and manages to travel back home immediately.
The main characters in the novel are Dana and Rufus. Dana is a very kind and forgiving lady. This is evident since despite all the bad that Rufus does to her she still helps him when he is in crisis. Rufus even drives Alice to suicide but Dana manages to look past this and still help him when he is undergoing depression. “I would have all I could do to look after myself. But I would help him as best I could. And I would try to keep friendship with him, maybe plant a few ideas in his mind that would help both me and the people who would be his slaves in the years to come,” says Dana (Butler, p.68).Rufus on the other hand is manipulative sadistic and plainly just forgetful. He manipulates Alice by lying to her that he had sold her children. This lie takes its toll on Alice until she finally kills herself. Despite all that Dana has done for him throughout his life he still has her beaten and even attempts to rape her.
The novel is very strong in its depiction of slavery. This is evident from the graphic description of how slaves were treated. “I could feel the knife in my hand, still slippery with perspiration. A slave was a slave. Anything could be done to her,” Says Dana as Rufus attempts to rape her (Butler, p. 260). The novel is weak in portraying the slaves as rebellious. They get ideas but never act on them. “I would never be to him what Tess had been to his father—a thing passed around like the whiskey jug at a husking. He wouldn’t do that to me or sell me or . . .” says Dana (Butler, p.260)
In my opinion the novel is very entertaining. It is a classic fusion of the past and the present or so to speak. I would recommend it because it is the portrayal of history in an entertaining way. It fuses history with time travel.
Butler, Octavia E..Kindred. 25th anniverary ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 2003. Print.
How does Dana's perspective on history change through the course of the novel?
Dana is sent between the past and the present and has to adjust her thinking on history itself. She first has a privileged 20th century mentality and sees herself as a spectator and an outsider; however, as time goes on (literally), she becomes more of an "agent of history," as critic Ashraf H.A. Rushdy writes. She has to make herself a historical subject in the past and see how history is still unfolding in the present. She uses writing to do so, writing in both the past and the present in the most personal way, and linking her family history and community through this medium.
How progressive of a man is Kevin?
Kevin is certainly progressive in many ways. He has married a black woman whom he treats well and fosters an egalitarian relationship; he is intelligent and well-read, excoriates slavery and slaveowners; and he becomes an abolitionist when he is left in the 19th century. However, he is still a man, and sometimes his ideas about his wife seem antiquated. He assumed she would type his manuscripts, and some of his comments about rape are problematic. He also does not seem to see the realities of slavery as Dana does, because he is white. He occasionally allows his privilege that stems from his skin color and gender to blind him to what is actually going on, and to make tone-deaf comments about the time period. He is certainly much better than many other white men, but there are some issues to be aware of.
Why does Dana need to kill Rufus, and what is the significance of this action?
Initially, Dana is unsure about killing Rufus. She wonders if this will destroy her own bloodline and thus obviate her own birth, and she also wonders if his death would be bad for the Weylin slaves. However, when Rufus tries to rape Dana, she does not hesitate, and kills him. This is a way for her to finally assert herself as a black woman; it reveals that she learned the lessons from her time as a slave that she needed to learn. She will not give up her body like she gave up certain other things from her self.
What are Dana's thoughts regarding Sarah, and how do they change over the course of the novel?
When Dana initially meets Sarah she is rather disdainful of her. She wonders why she is mean to the other slaves and why she seems disinclined to be open about her life. The biggest issue, though, is that Sarah seems to have accepted her life as a slave and does not resist in the way Dana thinks she and Alice do. She sees Sarah as a "Mammy" figure, and feels morally superior to her. As time goes on, though, she comes to see that this is unfair. Sarah is doing all she can; this is her form of resistance. Slavery is so abominable and incomprehensible that resistance can take all forms, and Sarah is no exception in this regard.
What is the significance of Alice and Dana being considered two halves of the same woman?
Dana and Alice look the same because they are related, but their similarities are important in other ways as well. Both are smart, independent, wily, and desirous of developing their sense of self. They seem to think the same and have the same fiery spirit. Dana, living in the 20th century, has the ability to manifest these traits much more easily. She says what she thinks, is self-employed, and is in a mostly egalitarian marriage. Alice on the other hand is privy to the whims of her white master, although she chafes at this control. It is very likely that if Dana were actually a slave she would be just like Alice, and if Alice lived in the 20th century, she would be just like Dana. Finally, both women exert a pull over Rufus, and both escape him in their own way–Alice by suicide, and Dana by killing him.