Study Guide for Kindred by Octavia E. Butler Analysis Synopsis|
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KINDRED BY OCTAVIA E. BUTLER - STUDY GUIDE
Dana is a strong, independent woman who has made a name for herself
as a published author. She is beginning a new marriage with a white man,
an unusual relationship in 1976, but even more unacceptable in 1819. Suddenly,
at a time when she is most happy and content, she is pulled by the force
of Rufus Weylin into the past to save his life. She then faces the horrors
of living as a slave and being the object of Rufus’ obsessive need for
her. However, the reader sees a Dana who learns that she has the strength
and the courage to face the worst the ante-bellum South can throw at her.
She is whipped, insulted, slapped, threatened with being sold, and treated
in a way she has never been treated before, and yet, she faces it all
with dignity, a strong sense of self-preservation, and compassion for
those around her who are treated worse than she is. Through her experiences,
the reader sees what it took to survive in slavery, and how blacks were
forced into submission and didn’t accept slavery, just because they felt
it was an acceptable way of life. They accepted because they feared the
alternative. Dana feels great compassion for the slaves, not just because
she is black, too, but also because they are human beings caught in an
inhumane situation. Her compassion also allows her to understand what
motivates Rufus, and how both whites and blacks are both victims to some
extent to the system. This doesn’t stop her, however, from having the
courage to kill him to free herself from his need for her.
From the very beginning, the reader can see how needy Rufus is. He has
an over-indulgent mother and a father who shows him little if any attention.
So when he is in trouble or dying, he doesn’t think of his parents. Instead,
he calls out to someone he sees sitting in a house, unpacking books. Thus
is born his need for Dana. Dana hopes she can mold his behavior enough
to make him a good man, but in the end, the true Rufus emerges. He whips
her to get her in line, sends her to the fields to work to teach her a
lesson, pretends to sell his children to keep Alice from running away,
and finally tries to rape Dana. In this way, Weylin’s obsession brings
about his own end, when Dana is forced to stab him to death to save herself.
Ironically, his desire to possess her forever comes true in a small sense:
in her final return home, she loses her arm at the exact spot where he
had grabbed on to it. The arm stays in the past forever with Rufus.
He is Dana’s husband and is a white man in a bi-racial relationship.
He has just married her and is moving into their new house with her, when
Dana is called to the past. He has a hard time at first believing what
has happened right in front of his eyes, but when he is forced back there
with Dana, he is in a position where he must believe. Kevin’s greatest
concern is to protect his wife and so he takes the role of her owner.
All is well for him until Dana leaves him behind when she has to return
to 1976. He spends the equivalent of five years in the past waiting for
her to come back. In that time, he is shot and spends time in the North
helping slaves escape. When he finally finds her again, and they return
to the future, he has a difficult time adjusting. He can’t figure out
what is home and what is not. It hurts his relationship with Dana for
a while, but eventually, after she has killed Rufus and broken the link
that draws her back, Kevin comes to realize that in spite of the surrealism
of their experience, they are sane and safe once more.
He is the owner of thirty-eight slaves on his plantation and has been
conditioned throughout his life to do whatever it takes to keep them in
line to work his fields and keep his house. He is very frugal, but does
incur debts that mean selling slaves to pay off what he owes. He whips
them when they need it and never sees them as humans, but rather as property
to dispose of as he sees fit. He doesn’t like Dana, because he is actually
jealous of her intelligence and independent ways. He is not as capable
a person as she is, so he eventually whips her to put her in her place.
Ironically, he is a fair man when it comes to giving his word. He finds
out that Rufus had never mailed Dana’s letters to Kevin even though he
had promised to, so Tom writes his own letter to Kevin, because Rufus
had given his word. He dies with little or no concern for his black children,
nor much love for his wife and son.
Born a free woman, Alice is one of Rufus’ childhood friends. Eventually,
he wants more than just friendship from her and she must reach within
herself to deal with a life she despises. Early on, she marries Isaac
Jackson, one of Judge Holman’s slaves, and she runs away with him after
he nearly beats Rufus to death. They are both caught, he is sold into
the Deep South, and she is forced into slavery after Rufus buys her. Rufus
is so obsessed with her that she must eventually give into his desires.
However, she holds back any affection from him, even after she bears him
four children. This is what Rufus desires most and the only power Alice
has over him. When she tries to run away, he not only beats her, but sends
her children away to make her think they have been sold. Alice becomes
deathly ill and finally, not knowing that her children are nearby, hangs
herself in the barn. She ultimately couldn’t live without her children.
Alice is, in Rufus’ mind, one half of the woman he envisions when he thinks
of her and Dana. They look alike, because Alice is Dana’s ancestor, and
he sees them as one woman who belongs to him.
Sarah, Carrie, and Nigel
These three slaves have a lifetime impact on Dana. Sarah is the mother
figure for Dana. She teaches her to cook, gives her advice about living
on the plantation, and ultimately shows Dana why so many slaves didn’t
try to fight back. Fear of a beating, fear of being sold, and fear of
losing their families made them passive and accepting of the lives they
lived. Carrie is Sarah’s mute daughter, who is not sold down the river,
because of her defect. She is a sweet, compassionate woman, who makes
Dana understand that she must not kill Rufus, because his death means
they will all be sold. Nigel was also Rufus’ playmate and friend. He was
with him when he broke his leg and wanted to learn to read just like Rufus.
He grew up a tall, strong man who eventually tried to run away. He withstood
the whipping, and not long after, fell in love Carrie. Marrying her and
having three sons with her makes him unwilling to run again, just as Rufus
knew it would. Dana believes that Nigel was the one who set the house
on fire to cover up that Dana had murdered Rufus.
Rufus’ over-indulgent mother and a woman with too much time on her hands,
Margaret is, according to Sarah and eventually Dana, a “bitch.” She runs
her household with an iron hand and like her husband, has been conditioned
to believe that blacks are not human, but just disposable property. Rufus
uses her possessive love for him against his father to protect himself
and get what he wants. During one of the times that Dana is back in 1976,
Margaret gives birth to twins, even though she had been cautioned never
to have any more children. The twins fail to thrive, and Margaret is now
broken inside. She turns to laudanum for the pain she suffers and becomes
addicted. Ironically, her addiction mellows her, and when she comes back
to the plantation after Tom Weylin dies, Dana actually begins to see the
good side of the woman and come to terms with why she had treated Dana
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