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Study Guide for Kindred by Octavia E. Butler Summary

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STUDY GUIDE FOR KINDRED: SUMMARY

LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

This science-fiction novel is set in Altadena, California in (at the time of the writing, the present day day) 1976, and the fictional Weylin Plantation on the rural eastern shore of Maryland near Baltimore in the years 1819 through 1838 or 1840.


CHARACTER LIST

Major Characters

Edana (Dana) Franklin
She is both the main character and the narrator of the story. She is a young black woman who is also a published writer. She and Kevin (her white husband) live in 1976, and have just purchased their first house together. Suddenly, Dana is pulled back into the past by a white ancestor in antebellum (or pre-civil war) Maryland, which was a slave state. How she copes with the task of preserving his life so her ancestor can be born brings the reader a unique view of life as a slave.

Rufus Weylin
He is Dana’s white ancestor who has grown up in the life of a slave owner. He is just a boy when he first calls Dana for her help to save his life, but she returns several times to see him grow into his twenties. He is a complex character who has an indelible need to possess two women: Dana and Alice.

Kevin Franklin
He is a white man married to a black woman in current day 1976, when such bi-racial unions were still somewhat rare, he is a totally devoted husband to Dana and also a published writer. At first, he has some problems believing what happened to Dana, but because he loves her, he accepts her strange tale of time travel. Eventually, he comes to believe it for real when he is accidentally pulled back in the past with Dana and remains there for five years before she returns for him.

Tom Weylin
He is Rufus’ father and according to Rufus, he is a fair man even if he isn’t likeable. He doesn’t hesitate to whip his slaves as punishment or to abide by all the rules of the ante-bellum South such as not educating slaves. However, he also keeps his word, once given, even to blacks, and that’s how Dana reunites with Kevin: Tom is the one to write him with the news of Dana’s return after Rufus hides Dana’s letters.


Alice Jackson
Born a free black woman, she starts life in a cabin in the woods with her mother. At first, she and Rufus are childhood friends, but he eventually develops an obsession for her. As a result, she tries to run away with her husband Isaac who is one of Judge Holman’s slaves. This means, once she is caught, that she becomes a slave under Rufus’ control. She eventually bears him four children, two of which die, and one of which becomes Dana’s ancestor. However, she spends most of her time hating him for what he did to Isaac and her. Her final attempt at freedom costs her her children and eventually her life.

Sarah, Carrie, and Nigel
Three slaves who Dana comes to love. Sarah is the cook who acts like a mother to Dana and teaches her to cook. Carrie is Sarah’s mute daughter who eventually marries Nigel, one of Rufus’ boyhood friends, but also a slave. These three believe totally that Dana comes from another time and watch over and protect her as much as they can. Sarah carries some bitterness, because Tom Weylin had sold off two of her children, and Nigel has been beaten for trying to escape. It is Carrie who reminds Dana that even though they would all like to see Rufus dead, they would all be sold to Georgia or Louisiana once he were gone.

Margaret Weylin
She is a selfish, uncaring woman married to Tom Weylin and mother to Rufus. She hates Dana, because Rufus is so attached to her. She eventually becomes a drug addict addicted to laudanum.


Minor Characters

Joe and Hagar
These children are the two living children of Alice and Rufus. Hagar will become Dana’s ancestor. Their names are symbolic of freedom.

Tess
One of the slaves who is the plantation laundress and Dana’s friend, she loses her value after a while when she doesn’t produce any children. She is sold off and led away in a coffle, a group of slaves chained together as a way to keep them from escaping. She is the first slave that Dana sees sold, and she has a tremendous effect on her.

Isaac
He is Alice’s husband, who is whipped , has his ears cut off, and is sold into the Deep South after he tried to escape with Alice. Before he is forced to run, Isaac nearly beats Rufus to death for raping Alice.

Luke
He is Weylin’s black overseer, who tells his son Nigel that he should be willing to accept a few beatings just to have more freedom while still a slave. He “acts white” once too often and is sold off to a Georgia slave trader.

Evan Fowler and Jake Edwards
These men are the white overseers and seem to enjoy the power they have over the field slaves. They are not supposed to have any power over the house slaves, but both use any opportunity to control them or even whip them. Neither likes Dana, because they think she also acts “too white.”

Sam Jones
He is a large, strong field hand who mentions he’s attracted to Dana. When Rufus learns this, he has him sold into the Deep South.

 

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