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Study Guide: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler: Analysis /Synopsis

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FREE NOTES: KINDRED ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY

CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES / ANALYSIS

PROLOGUE

Summary

The plot opens with the narrator’s (Dana Franklin, a young, black woman) revelation that on her last trip home, she lost her left arm as well as about a year of her life and much of the comfort and security she had not valued until she was gone. With these mysterious words, the reader is thrust into the combination history/fantasy story of Edana Franklin. The loss of her arm nearly leads to the imprisonment of her husband, Kevin, whom the police suspect hurt her so badly. She finally convinces them it was an accident, and because they can’t figure out how he could have hurt her the way she was hurt, they let him go. He explains that he told the police as much of the truth about her accident as he could, and that he couldn’t explain how it happened. The Prologue ends with Dana whispering that she doesn’t know how either.

Notes

The Prologue seems meant to establish several mysteries about Dana Franklin and her husband, Kevin, which will possibly never be solved. Kevin and Dana both obviously are in the dark about how she lost her arm, and the event seems to indicate that they have experienced something quite unexplainable. That means that these experiences will now unfold through Dana’s flashback.


THE RIVER

Summary

This chapter opens with Dana’s observation that the trouble she experienced began long before June 9, 1976 - her birthday. However, it is the day she first becomes aware of it. It is also the day she meets Rufus, the day he calls her to him for the first time. She and Kevin have just moved from Los Angeles to their first house a few miles away in Altadena. She is unpacking and sorting their voluminous amount of books. Kevin sits down and indicates he’s frustrated, because he had a half dozen ideas for his Christmas story while they were moving, but now, he has lost them all. Then, Dana keeps him busy by telling him to help her shelve their collection. That way, she says, his ideas may come back to him.

Just as she pushes a full box toward him, she suddenly becomes dizzy and nauseated. The room blurs and darkens, and she collapses to her knees. Kevin moves to touch her, and just as he does, he vanishes from her sight, and she finds herself kneeling on the ground beneath trees and beside a wide tranquil river. She sees a child splashing and screaming and she realizes he’s drowning. She reacts instinctively, jumping into the river, fully clothed, to find a small red-haired boy floating face down in the river. She turns him over, gets a good hold on him, and tows him into shore. There is a redhaired women pacing along the edge of the river, crying. Once she sees Dana is wading, she jumps to her and grabs the boy from her hands. She screams that the boy is not breathing, and Dana immediately pulls to mind how to do artificial respiration. She sets to work on the dying child while the woman strikes her over and over, exclaiming that Dana has killed her child. He eventually revives, coughing and screaming himself, and Dana is relieved. She wonders as his mother utters his name - Rufus - how a reasonably nice-looking kid could have such an ugly name. Then, she hears another voice demanding to know what’s going on, and she finds herself looking down the barrel of the longest rifle she has ever seen. Suddenly, the sick dizzy feeling returns, and the man with the rifle and the woman and the boy disappear, and she is kneeling once again in her own house.

Now, Dana is across the room from where she had originally disappeared, and Kevin is aghast at what has happened. Dana is in shock, shaking with fear and residual terror. She aches as well where Rufus’ mother had struck her. Kevin cannot figure out how she moved across the room and how she became soaked with water. Dana eventually becomes composed enough to begin telling her husband what she experienced. Details that she didn’t realize she had taken in come to mind: the tall pine trees, the woman’s clothing, the fact that they had spoken with a Southern accent, and of course, the long, deadly, unforgettable gun. Kevin acts as if she’s insane, because she was only gone for a few seconds. However, the facts cannot be denied: she vanished and returned a few seconds later, all the way across the room and soaked with river water.

Of course, they don’t know what to think and Dana is scared to death that it will happen again. The worse feeling she has is the sense that she’s no longer safe. Eventually, the experience begins to recede from her as if she had viewed it on television and that it is no longer real. However, she consciously knows that it was real, and that she’s pulling away from it out of fear.

Notes

This chapter presents Dana’s first experience of time travel, although neither she nor Kevin ever use this term to describe what happens to them. The chapter also serves to introduce Rufus, his mother, and his father. Their behavior during this experience sets the foundation for what their behavior later in the novel.

It’s also important to note that the author never explains why such an event would just suddenly happen to Dana. This is the beginning of a realization for the reader that the author doesn’t need to explain why time travel would just happen. Her purpose is beyond the science fiction of the story. It is ultimately more about the history and the psychology of the characters impacted by the history.

 

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