Study Guide for Kindred by Octavia E. Butler Analysis Synopsis

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Other elements that are present in this novel are symbols and metaphors. Symbols are the use of some unrelated idea to represent something else. Metaphors are direct comparisons made between characters and ideas. There are many symbols and metaphors used by the author such as:

1. Tom mutters as he leaves Dana that it seems that she is there to be Rufus’ caregiver. In this sense, she is a symbol of all that keeps him alive, and as a caregiver, she becomes the object of his obsessive love.

2. The map of Maryland that Dana is forced to burn is a symbol of freedom as is the North Star, which will have to serve in its place.

3. Dana is also a caregiver of Alice, both as a friend and as the one who must assure that Alice gives birth to Hagar.

4. When Dana arrives home, she turns on the radio where the news switches to a story about South Africa. Blacks are rioting and dying wholesale in battles with police over the policies of the white supremacist government. It’s a metaphor for the past she has been living on the Weylin Plantation.

5. The names of Alice’s children are symbolic of the freedom Dana longs for as much as Alice does. Joseph led his people out of slavery and Hagar was the handmaiden of Sarah, wife of Abraham.

6. Many of the other slaves, especially Alice, think of Dana as a “white nigger,” who gets special privileges, because Rufus protects her.

7. Alice tells Dana that Rufus uses the children against her just the way you use a bit on a horse, and she’s tired of having a bit in her mouth. This is a metaphor of slavery, and how the slave owners used the children of slaves to keep them obedient.

Another element found in this book is a motif. A motif is a recurring thematic element in the development of an artistic or literary work. There is one important motif in Kindred: the motif of a paradox, a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true, flows throughout the story. Some examples of paradox include:

1. The author never explains why time travel would just suddenly happen to Dana. This is the beginning of a realization for the reader that the author doesn’t need to explain it. 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. This is a paradox, because time travel isn’t an ordinary aspect of life, and yet Butler makes it seem ordinary and acceptable.

2. Dana returns to the past several years after her first visit. So she hasn’t changed, but the characters there have grown older.

3. Rufus sees Dana in a strange room surrounded by books in the future when he’s dying.

4. Even through he doesn’t deserve it, Dana must continue to save Rufus 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.

5. Dana realizes that she has not only crossed time, but also distance, because this is Maryland, not California.

6. Dan realizes she is a black woman protecting a boy who has been raised to consider blacks as subhuman, and she is a woman who watches over a boy who will grow up to believe women are perennial children.

7. When she finds Isaac beating Rufus to death, Dana realizes she must stop a man of her own race from killing a white man, who no doubt had done something wrong to the slave.

8. Dana convinces Alice to go to bed with Rufus. It’s another paradox that she has taken Alice through all the stages of healing and now has to help Rufus tear open her wound again.


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