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Study Guide for Kindred by Octavia E. Butler Analysis Synopsis

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KINDRED LITERARY CRITICISM / NOTES

THE ROPE

Summary

PART 1

Dana has come home again. She has had her wrists bandaged, and Kevin is sitting by the bed. She admits that she cut her own wrists, hoping the act would get her home. Kevin only says that there has to be a better way. Kevin had called a doctor to care for her damaged wrists, and he said that she really hadnít done much damage to herself. She asks Kevin how long she was gone this time, and he says three hours. She is amazed, because she spent eight months in the past. They discuss all that had happened to her until they finally come to the thought they have both had all along. Killing Rufus may be the only way to keep both of them in 1976 for good.

PART 2

Dana and Kevin have fifteen full days together this time before sheís called back again. Ironically, sheís called back to slavery on the fourth of July. Before that happens, however, she and Kevin grow slowly back into the twentieth century. A friend comes over and wonders what has happened to Kevin. Dana explains that he has been very sick, and the friend leaves, thinking Kevin has cancer. Kevin tries driving again, which leaves him shaking from the experience, and finally, they come to the discussion they have been putting off: what about Rufus? He tells Dana that if she returns to the past, she will have a terrible time getting back again. He knows that Rufus is determined that she never leave him. Dana has to convince Kevin that she has the courage to kill if she has to. She tries then to explain to Kevin the bond she has with Rufus - she has to accept limits on her freedom for his sake, and he has to accept limits on her behavior toward him. He has to leave her enough control of her life to make living look better to her than killing and dying. However, she fears that if she finishes him, she might not be able to get home again. All this had started with him and maybe she needs him to travel forward in time as well.

PART 3


Kevinís friends come over on the Fourth of July to ask the couple to go to the Rose Bowl for the fireworks. Dana doesnít want to go, and itís good that she decides not to, because just as the friends leave, she begins to feel dizzy. She stumbles for her tote and reaches it just as she disappears. She awakens lying on the ground. Rufus stumbles over her and demands to know what she is doing there. He looks haggard and weary, but not really older than the last time she saw him. She finally tells him that she never knows what sheís doing there until she finds out whatís wrong with him. He picks her up, puts her on her feet, and leads her to the barn. Everything around them is going on normally, but when she gets in the barn, she sees a woman hanging by her neck. It is Alice, and she is dead. All Dana can think is that she wants her down. She cuts the rope with her knife, sits on the floor of the barn with Alice in her arms, and weeps silently. When Rufus comes back in, he canít look Dana in the eye. He finally says that Alice killed herself. When she asks why, he canít answer. She goes immediately to the cookhouse where she finds Sarah. Sarah tells Dana that Rufus had sold Aliceís babies. She explains that Alice had run away, and when he caught her, he had whipped her. That seemed to have little effect on her, so he sold her babies. Sarah has nursed her, because she became quite sick over the loss of her children. It brought back Sarahís own feelings after Tom Weylin had sold her two children.

Dana immediately confronts Rufus. He says he didnít sell her children. Instead, he had sent them to Baltimore to his motherís sister, because he wanted to scare her into never leaving again. He doesnít know why he didnít bring them back when she got sick. Dana accuses him of killing her just as if he had put a gun to her head, and she insists that now he owes Alice two certificates of freedom for her children. He blames her, saying that when Dana left, everything fell apart with Alice. He demands to know why she didnít stay. Dana says he was turning into something she didnít want to be near.

PART 4

There is an outdoor funeral for Alice. Some of the slaves at the funeral whisper that she will go to hell, because she has committed suicide. Then, there is only silence. Dana goes to the library where she can write and be alone. Rufus eventually goes to Easton Point to catch the steamboat for Baltimore. She wants to go with him, even through she makes Rufus agree to allow Carrie to raise his children rather than her. He refuses to allow her to go and tells Evan Fowler to keep an eye on her while heís gone. He fears that sheíll try to run away or cut her wrists. So Fowler is in and out of the house more often while Rufus is gone. Finally, Rufus returns with the children in his arms. Dana is surprised to hear Joe call Rufus daddy. She manages to give Rufus a smile for that - a real smile.

It turns out that Dana has only been gone for three months, and she is allowed to start up her classes again. Slowly, but delicately, Dana begins to push Rufus toward freeing some of the children and perhaps, in his will, all of the slaves. Unfortunately, he makes no promises. He tells her one day in the library that heíd be crazy to free the slaves in his will. This would give her the opportunity and motive to kill him. He tells her he dreams all the time that she will leave sometime without helping him. He knows she has the choice to help him or not. Furthermore, both his father and Alice had told him that Dana is the kind of black who is too white, who watches, thinks, and makes trouble. Alice had said that someday Rufus would find out that his daddy was right. Rufus wonders what he will do if she leaves again. She tells him he must survive for his children. He goes on to say that the first time she encouraged Alice, he feared that the woman would kill him in his sleep. He says that he didnít care if she did, because he had to have her. Now, he has to have Dana. She is so much like Alice that he can hardly stand it.

He touches her, but she pulls away, telling him to leave her alone or sheíll make his dream of abandonment come true. She runs up the stairs to the attic, but he soon follows her. He speaks to her about Alice and how just before she left, she had stopped hating him. He wonders how long it will take Dana to stop hating him. He throws her down on the pallet and lays over her. For a moment, she wonders if she can just accept this as well, forgive him even this, but soon those thoughts are gone. She can feel the knife in her hand and realizes that he has lost the understanding he once had that he could never be her lover. She sinks the knife into his side. He screams and struggles for the knife, but she pulls her arm away and sinks it into his back. Suddenly, Nigel appears, horrified at what he is seeing. Rufus collapses across Dana as she convulses and vomits, sick at what she has done.

Suddenly Dana feels something harder and stronger than Rufusí hand clamped down on her arm, squeezing it and stiffening it. She seems to be melting with it as it seems to be absorbed into something more. She has returned home, and her arm is growing out of her living room wall. It is embedded into the plaster at the exact spot where Rufusí fingers had grasped her. She pulls her arm toward her and suddenly feels an avalanche of pain and then she screams and screams.

EPILOGUE

Summary

Dana and Kevin fly to Baltimore as soon as her arm is healed. Unfortunately, Rufusí house is gone, now covered with a broad cornfield. The only clue they find as to the fates of those they had met in the past is an old newspaper article. The article states that a Mr. Rufus Weylin had died in his house which had caught fire and was partially destroyed. In later papers, they find records of slaves being sold from the Weylin estate. She reads the names of Nigelís sons, but not Nigel and Carrie. Even Sarah is listed, but not Joe or Hagar. Dana believes that Nigel probably set the fire to cover Rufusí murder. She also has hope that Margaret had taken the children and accepted them as her grandchildren. They talk about why she had killed Rufus, and they both accept that it was self-defense. However, Dana still feels guilty, because of the consequences: the slaves being sold. She questions why she and Kevin have even flown to Baltimore to see if they could find information on her ancestors. Kevin tells her that she came for the same reason he did: to try to understand, to find some solid proof that these people had existed. Dana remarks that if they told their story, people would label them insane, but Kevin sums up the truth of the matter. They are sane, and now that Rufus is dead, they have the chance to stay that way.

 

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