Sci-Fi: Fiction based on scientific/technological advances; major social and economic changes
Speculative Fiction: Includes elements created by imagination-not based on everyday life
Afro-Futurism: Elements of sci-fi, fiction, and magical realism to present modern struggles of people of color face as well as examine the past
Neo-Slave Narrative: Contemporary, fictionalized accounts of slavery
I think the book is Afro-futuristic. The definition includes elements of science fiction which would explain the travel as well as aligning the examination of the past with an analysis of present oppression that people of color endure. Racism is evident in 1824, but Octavia Butler highlights that despite the abolition of slavery, racism still exists in 1976. For example, when Dana seeks approval from her aunt and uncle for her marriage to Kevin, she tells him
“’I think my aunt accepts the idea of my marrying you because any children we have will be light. Lighter than I am, anyway. She always said I was a little too ‘highly visible’.’” (111).
Even in 1976, being black is still perceived as inferior to being white. Even today, in 2016, racism is still prevalent. Kindred clearly examines the culture of 1824 and this quote analyzes the perception of 1976. Today, it is still relevant to use the text to analyze our society. The definition of Afro-Futurism best encompasses all parts of the book.
Butler uses her work to point out the fact that black women face racism and sexism simultaneously. In the 1970s, anti-racist and feminist movements would have existed, but these movements were not inclusive of intersectional identities. Race and gender were seen as opposing ideas, and black women were expected to choose one or the other. Kindred allows for the exploration of intersectionality. For example, in 1824, black men were seen as physical objects. They were viewed as tools used for work. Black women were seen as physical objects as well, but they were also viewed as sex toys to be used by white men for pleasure. For example, Dana discusses Weylin’s treatment of Tess:
“Poor Tess. Weylin had tired of her as a bed mate and passed her casually to Edward” (181).
Not only is Tess expected to work like an animal, she is also forced to sleep with Weylin until he no longer desires her. Contrarily, Margaret Weylin, a white woman, may not be able to read or write, but she is not treated as a sex slave. Nigel, as a black man, is forced to work tirelessly, but his body is not a sexual conquest for his master. Octavia Butler uses Kindred to point out the dual oppression faced by black women. For her time, she was completely out of the box. Even today, people do not usually consider identities simultaneously.
Despite spending time in 1824, Dana retains her sense of self and her values from 1976. She has a strong sense of agency—wanting to make a difference in 1824 Maryland. Her ultimate goal (besides ensuring her survival) is to prevent Rufus from becoming his father and provide him with a more compassionate view toward slaves. For example, she corrects Rufus’ use of the word n–, telling him
“’I’m a black woman, Rufus. If you have to call me something other than my name, that’s it.’” (25).
Dana attempts to work around cultural norms, but often has to “behave” as she is expected to order to keep herself from being whipped or killed. While eating with Rufus, he comments that his father would be upset if he saw them eating together. Dana collects herself and “reined in whatever part of myself I’d left in 1976” (134), in order to prevent another whipping from Tom Weylin. In both 1824 and 1976, Dana is constrained by the exclusion of intersectionality from cultural movements. Yet, in 1824, even having her own sense of agency puts her in immediate danger. She ultimately finds liberation by defending herself against Rufus and ultimately ending his life. This frees her from ever returning to 1824. Yet, a piece of her still remains in the past.
Dana’s arm represents the impact that the 1824 experience had on her. She is left shaken by the experience and her sense of identity is impacted. In the same way, slavery had a deep impact on 1824 slaves. Their senses of identity were completely shattered by being held in captivity and even if they lived to be free, a part of them would never be free. After going through an experience like the one Dana went through, one can never completely recover. Losing her arm is a physical representation of the imprint 1824 left on her.