Kindred Essay Research Paper OctaviaButler

Kindred Essay, Research Paper


Butler’s novel Kindred is categorized as science fiction because of the

existence of time travel. However, the novel does not center on the schematics

of this type of journey. Instead, the novel deals with the relationships forged

between a Los Angeles woman from the 20th century, and slaves from the 19th

century. Therefore, the mechanism of time travel allows the author a sort of

freedom when writing this "slavery narrative" apart from her

counterparts. Butler is able to judge the slavery from the point of view of a

truly "free" black woman, as opposed to an enslaved one describing

memories.On a more

superficial level, the fact that the novel has been deemed as "science

fiction" opens it up to a greater audience. It is safe to say that the

majority of people cannot relate to the troubles and scars of the antebellum

south, in fact the only living persons who can purely relate are the

descendents of slaves. And, even then, it is only on a secondary level, brought

on by stories handed through the generations. The novel is seen through the

eyes of a woman of the "modern" period of history, and centers itself

on her counteraction. This gives the "fish out of water" quality of

life. To this, the majority of us can sympathize. Most have been in a situation

where things around are unfamiliar, thus forcing an adjustment in behavior. The

adjustment that the main character Dana makes, though, is one that is very

extreme. Clearly the time spent in the past made Dana much harder than she had

been, she says, "If I’d had my knife, I would surely have

killed someone. As it was, I managed to leave scratches and bruises on Rufus,

his father, and Edwards who was called over to help." (Butler, 176)As far as

how it works in the actual story of the novel, firstly, and most importantly,

it puts a strong, independent, black, 20th century black woman in the

antebellum south. This provides a strong contrast in living conditions, as well

as psychological patterns with those of the 19th century Dana sees and conveys

the world of slavery around her with the background of the 20th century,

"our world." This allows the reader to find a real connection with

the protagonist, Dana. Dana describes in its gory detail the whippings she

took:He beat me

until I swung back and forth by my wrists, half-crazy with pain, unable to find

my footing, unable to stand the pressure of hanging, unable to get away from

the steady slashing blows.(176)Each blow

is felt ten fold, as a product of different times, relatively peaceful times,

Dana, along with the reader, is not accustom to this amount of first hand


the discrepancy between times moves the drama in the plot along, in particular,

Dana’s relationship with Rufus. Once Dana learns that her purpose is to protect

the life of Rufus, in order to continue her own family line, she takes on the

maternal role. She teaches him the lessons of discipline and respect for others

that have been considered the parents role:’Hush,

Rufe.’ I put my hand on his shoulder to quiet him. Apparently I’d hit the nerve

I’d aimed at. ‘I didn’t say you were trash. I said how’d you like to be called

trash. I see you don’t like it. I don’t like being called nigger either.’ (61)This also

illustrates how Dana believes she can have a lasting effect on Rufus, to steer

him away from the ways of his father. However, she only has a limited period of

time to shed her 20th century mentality on him. And, Rufus’ change is not

gradual relative to Dana, because every time she returns, she finds Rufus years

older, and acting that much more like his father. This poses

one of the general themes that go along with time travel in science fiction.

Every protagonist has visions of grandeur of making the future a

"better" place. So they go back in time and try to influence the past

in order to rearrange the future. But, in each case each character fails.But, the

fact that Dana goes backward in time lets her to prepare for the worst. It is

evident throughout the book that Dana is quite well educated, and has read a

good amount of material written by former slaves. Since she is well versed on

the "old southern ways" she can develop a higher understanding of her

surroundings. She knows exactly what actions will cause a violent reaction,

"But if that patroller’s friends had caught me, they would have killed me.

And if they hadn’t caught me, they would probably have gone after Alice’s

mother." (51) She also realizes what she must sacrifice in order to

survive:’Oh, they

won’t kill me. Not unless I’m silly enough to resist the other things they’d

rather do – like raping me, throwing me into jail as a runaway, and then

selling me to the highest bidder when they see that my owner isn’t coming to

claim me.’ (48)This

"street smart" gives Dana a slight advantage. One begins to question

whether Dana is growing accustom to the practices of the time.As the

story progresses, it becomes harder for Dana to be "scared to death"

in order to return her home. For instance after she was caught reading to

Nigel, Tom Weylin whipped her for the first time. Her dizziness set in

relatively quickly, and she was sent home. But, later on when Dana is caught

trying to escape to find Kevin, she is whipped again perhaps more brutally.

However, she almost accepts the beating, "This was only punishment, and I

knew it.I wasn’t going to die." (176)In

addition, the sudden juxtaposition of both times allows for the illustration of

the timelessness of bigotry. Dana and Kevin’s present time, 1976, is a decade

after the heated battles of the Civil Rights Movement, yet interracial

marriages are still looked down upon. For instance, Kevin’s sister’s reaction

upon learning of the engagement between Kevin and Dana. She says she doesn’t

wish to meet Dana nor have her in the house. She even goes as far to say that

her own brother, Kevin, is no longer welcome in her house. (110) However, the

racism is not limited just to Kevin’s family, it also applies to Dana’s. Her

uncle says that he wishes Dana to marry "someone like him – someone who

looks like him. A black man." (111)This

contrast allows for the comparison with Dana’s "present." In her

time, Dana refers to the temp agency she works for as a "slave

market." (52) In a way a temp agency is the 20th century’s own version of

slavery. The workers are at the beck and call of the agency, and the agency

sells their services to each company, reminiscent of a slave-selling bloc.

However, each slave moves from plantation to plantation with no control over

where and when, does not get paid, and suffers indignities and pain

unfathomable to the modern person. Dana, in hindsight realizes this and recants

her categorizing the temp agency as a "slave market." (52)This in

turn sheds light onto the conclusion that the "scars of slavery" have

not disappeared, shown symbolically through Dana. At the conclusion of the

novel, Dana’s arm is stuck in the past, held by Rufus. Rufus becomes the

representation of "the long arm of slavery." That which reaches out

although slavery has long been abolished. As Dana’s scars do not heal when she

returns to 1976, the scars of slavery are still present. The consequences of

slavery are still prevalent in our society today, what with the continuing

battle for civil rights and for affirmative action. It seems that much like

Dana, we cannot escape the results of slavery without making a huge sacrifice.Ultimately,

time travel lets Octavia Butler convey her own views on slavery, and the

brutality of it. However, her main point is that although we have advanced

through the last century, bigotry is still a major problem in our society. And,

in order for any major progress to be had, each side will suffer losses, as

Rufus’ life was taken along with Dana’s arm.