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Study Guide for Kindred by Octavia E. Butler Analysis Synopsis

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KINDRED: FREE BOOKNOTES SUMMARY

THE FIRE

Summary

PART 1

Dana tries to forget what has happened to her by showering away the mud and brackish water, but Rufus and his parents have not quite settled back into the dream stage as she wishes. Kevin has already finished shelving the books and suggests they go out for something to eat. However, Dana is afraid to go out and refuses with a panicked sound to her voice. So, Kevin calls for take-out food. Then, while they eating, the dizziness and nausea set in again. Once more, Dana vanishes.

PART 2

This time, she finds herself sitting on a small bed sheltered by an abbreviated canopy. In front of her is a red-haired boy who has his back to her. She wonders if he is Rufus. Then she notices that he has small stick, the end of which he is using to set fire to the curtains. She reacts again instinctively, grabbing the upper part of the burning draperies, and throwing them out the half-opened window. She feels that once again she has averted disaster for this little boy and waits for the nausea to return so she can go home. However, the room remains unblurred, and the bedroom is undeniably real. She turns back from the window and looks at the boy. She doesn’t believe he is Rufus, but rather an older sibling, because this boy is older by three or four years from the drowning child she had saved.

Dana steps over what’s left of the draperies on the floor and grabs the stick from his hand and throws it in the fireplace. She tells the boy that the stick should be used on him before he burns the house down. The boy threatens - once again in a Southern accent - that he’ll tell his daddy. Dana knows at this point that she may be stranded here for a while and that she must calm this boy to learn all she can. She reminds him that he’ll have plenty to explain beyond just her if he calls his daddy, and that quiets him. Of course, the boy wants to know who she is and how she came to be there. Dana instead asks him his name and he answers that it’s Rufus. She has returned to the past several years after her first visit. At first, he claims he doesn’t recognize her, but when she reminds him of his near-death in the river, his memories of her come back. He describes how he almost drowned, how he saw her in a strange room surrounded by books, and that she was wearing pants like a man. He also tells her that his daddy thought she was a man, too. When he questions his mother later about where Dana went so suddenly, his mother hits him, something she had never done. That shows how frightened the whole experience made her. Rufus concludes that Dana had returned to this room when she vanished, but she’s not a ghost. Dana reminds him that she came twice to him, both times when he needed help. She realizes that she has not only crossed time, but also distance, because this is Maryland, not California. She also realizes that Rufus is the focus and the cause return to the past.


Rufus points out that his mother became upset when Dana used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, because Dana was just “some nigger she had never seen before.” Dana is immediately angry with the use of that word, but realizes that it’s a word Rufus is used to, and he sincerely doesn’t know why Dana is angry about it. She sternly reminds him that she has saved him twice and that he will have the courtesy of calling her what she wants to be called. This is the first time Dana recognizes that she can teach and mold this boy’s behavior to some extent.

Rufus admits that he had also set another fire - he had burned up the stable, because his father had sold his favorite horse. For that, he had received a severe beating, and he lifts his shirt and shows Dana the old welts and ugly scars. His fear of his father had made him subconsciously call Dana again. Somehow, he draws her to him when he’s in more trouble than he can handle. He explains that his father uses a black handled whip on niggers and horses as well. Dana reminds him to use the word blacks around her, and then stops in surprise when Rufus mentions that his mother had taken him away after the beating to his aunt’s home in Baltimore. She gets him to explain that they are at that moment across the bay from Baltimore, Maryland, and that the year is 1815. It is a psychological blow to Dana, who realizes now just how far away from home she really is. She also knows now why his father uses a whip on “niggers” - Rufus tells her she is on the Weylin Plantation and that his daddy’s name is Tom Weylin. The name causes Dana to ask Rufus if there’s a black slave girl named Alice living around him somewhere. He responds that Alice is his friend and that she is freeborn like her mother.

This news reminds Dana of the old family Bible in the ornately carved, wooden chest in which Dana’s grandmother had kept family records. Her uncle still has the Bible, but Dana remembers that the first name listed is that of Hagar Weylin born in 1831. Hagar’s parents are named as Rufus Weylin and Alice Greenwood. Now Dana knows that one of her ancestors - Alice Greewood - will have a child with this boy, Rufus. He is her ancestor, and no one had ever known that he was white. It makes her realize that this might be the reason why she is called to him - she must save him in order to allow her ancestors to be born. She must continue to save him until Hagar is born which will allow her to be born as well. She knows that she doesn’t dare test this paradox: she must take care of a life in the past so she can be born.

Rufus notices that Dana looks a lot like Alice’s mother. However, Dana brushes off his observation, not willing to tell him her suspicions about the link between them. He also tells her when questioned that his father owns 38 slaves, but that he knows she’s not a slave. She doesn’t talk or dress like a slave, and she doesn’t call him “Master.” He insists she must do so or she will be in trouble with his father. She agrees to call him “Mister Rufus” and knows she must get out of this house. There is no protection for her here. Rufus asks her name, and when she says that it’s Dana, he remembers that just as he set the fire, he heard a man’s voice say, “Dana, is it happening again?” and then she appeared. She explains that the man he heard was Kevin, her husband, but that she is now more worried about getting out of the house before his father wakes up. She asks him if he knows any place she can go. He recommends that she walk to the town of Easton and find work or that she go to Alice’s mother’s cabin which is closer to the plantation. He wants to be able to see her again before she goes home. Therefore, she cautions him to put the remainder of the curtains in the fire so there is nothing left to show what he had done. She also warns him not to burn anything again and to point her the way to Alice’s cabin.

 

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