Study Guide for Kindred by Octavia E. Butler Analysis Synopsis

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The author divides the plot into chapters that coincide with the times when Rufus need Dana. They include: The River (when he almost drowns), The Fire (when he sets the curtains in his room on fire with the intention of getting revenge against his father), The Fall (when Rufus falls out of a tree and breaks his leg), The Fight (when Rufus rapes Alice and Isaac nearly beats him to death), The Storm (when Dana finds a drunken Rufus drowning in a puddle during a rainstorm), and The Rope (when Dana comes back to discover that Rufus had driven Alice to hang herself). There is also a Prologue which sets the stage for the flashback to follow and an Epilogue when Dana and Kevin fly to Baltimore to try to find proof of the existence of all the people on the Weylin Plantation.


The rising action begins on Dana’s twenty-sixth birthday, June 9, 1976, as she and Kevin are unpacking boxes for their new house. She is called suddenly into the past to save Rufus Weylin’s life and then returns to the past several times to save him or get him out of trouble. It ends with the climax of Rufus’ murder at Dana’s hands.


The falling action involves Dana healing from losing her arm and then flying to Baltimore to search the historical archives for any information about the fates of the Weylin family and their slaves.


Octavia Butler writes in a simple, straightforward style with uncomplicated vocabulary. She writes the story as if she is Dana experiencing the world of slavery. Then, she shifts to flashback to help the reader relive along with Dana all the horrors she experienced. This makes the world of 1819 more realistic than it might be in a simple historical novel.


The point of view is first person. The narrator is Dana Franklin who tells the reader through flashback about her experiences with time travel into the ante-bellum South.


The Horrors of Slavery

The theme of the horrors of slavery is one that is unusual for a science fiction novel. Rather than concentrating on the possibility of time travel, the author makes it the mechanism by which she explores how horrible and long lasting were the consequences of slavery. Dana is a young successful black woman who is forced to live what her ancestors lived. She must accept the burden of the work they did, the punishments they received, and the fears they lived with daily. She, too, even though she’s a soft, spoiled girl living where technology rules, must learn to survive, knowing she’s only a piece of property. This is the ultimate horror of slavery: the loss of one’s humanity. Taking a beating, being tortured, fearing always being sold into the Deep South, or dying at the hands of one’s owner are all insignificant when one thinks about the basic loss of humanity. Knowing that no matter how well you lived or how good you behaved, you were just disposable goods must have been the most degrading part of all aspects of slavery. This is what the author most wants to emphasize in this novel even though it is still science fiction.

Obsessive Love

The theme of obsessive love is best reflected in Rufus. He sees Alice and Dana as one woman with two sides, and he demands that they never leave him. Ironically, he has chosen two women who are the most independent and most appreciate being free. He tries every trick he can think of and every torture both physical and emotional to keep them by his side. He only manages to push them further away. The obsessive love he feels is an echo of the white entitlement to own other human beings. Rufus like other slave owners of his time obsesses over his “property.” They are his to keep or just throw away upon a whim. It is a part of the power of the system of slavery and for the most part, those enslaved acquiesced. However, Dana and Alice both fought back, but not without losses of their own. Alice believes she has lost her children to Rufus’ obsessive love and commits suicide, while Dana refuses to lose her body to him, kills him to escape, but leaves her arm behind. Obsessive love then is not with out great consequences for all involved.

The Human Need For Freedom

The final theme, the human need for freedom, can be seen throughout the novel. In spite of her love for Kevin, Dana keeps a great deal of her independence within the relationship. Even with Rufus, there is a line, which she will not allow him to cross, even at the expense of her life. For the slaves, freedom is something for which they yearn, but most have resigned themselves that they will never have. Some test the system and try to escape to a free state. When they’re caught, they face the consequences of being whipped and losing their families. Nonetheless, the North Star calls to them always, because human slavery is just not natural.


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