Prompt #5

Dana and Kevin are partners. At the beginning, Dana experiences the 1800s alone. Then, Kevin accompanies her and serves as a protector. Then, when she leaves, he is the one who ends up trapped outside of his time. Even though both of them experience living outside of their own time, Dana has a very different perspective than Kevin. When discussing Tess, Dana comments

“’I thought that could be me—standing there with a rope around my neck waiting to be led away like someone’s dog’” (246).

Because Dana is a black woman, the 1800s pose a kind of danger toward her that Kevin, a white man, could never imagine.

Dana is the protector of Rufus. She does not choose to journey to him, but she feels obligated to take care of him and educate him well. Initially, she feels that she can prevent him from becoming racist like his culture. She tries to correct his language,

“I said how’d you like to be called trash. I see you don’t like it. I don’t like being called n—either” (61).

She hopes that by correcting him, she can raise him to be more empathetic than he would be otherwise. However, as he grows older, she finds that she cannot prevent him from assimilating into the culture of 1824.


 

Timeline

  Kevin Rufus
The River Kevin remains at home while Dana is taken away to help Rufus; he is doubtful of the situation. “’Let yourself pull away from it.’ He got up and took the muddy towel from me. ‘That sounds like the best thing you can do, whether it was real or not. Let go of it’” (17). Dana saves Rufus from drowning when he is very young. “Moments later, the boy began breathing on his own—breathing and coughing and choking and throwing up and crying for his mother. If he could do all that, he was all right. I sat back from him, feeling light-headed, relieved. I had done it!” (14).
The Fire Kevin no longer doubts Dana’s experiences and worries about what might happen to her when she is gone.

“’I need you to come home to. I’ve already learned that.’ He gave me a long thoughtful look. ‘Just keep coming home,’ he said finally. ‘I need you here too’” (51).

Rufus sees Dana almost as a nanny or friend. She attempts to prevent him from becoming a bigot, correcting his use of the n—word: “He looked at me warily. ‘I wasn’t talking about you.’ I brushed that aside. ‘Say blacks anyways’” (26).
The Fall Kevin accompanies Dana to the 1800s. Although he still retains a 1976 perspective, he subconsciously begins to assimilate into the culture. Dana tells him “’I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery’” (101) when he attempts to minimize the negative treatement of the Weylin’s slaves. Dana becomes a tutor to Rufus. She feels obligated to educate him, not only in terms of school, but also socially. “All I could do was hope the boy had as much potential as I thought he did” (88).
The Fight Kevin ended up trapped in the past for five years and he and Dana are finally reunited. “This place, this time, hand’t been any kinder to him than it had been to me. But what had it made of him? What might he be willing to do now that he would not have done before?” (184). Rufus has become an entitled man of his era. He becomes more controlling of Dana. Dana now feels obligated to look after Alice as well as Rufus, and teach Rufus to respect Alice (which does not succeed). “’You’re not leaving!’ he shouted. He sort of crouched around the gun, clearly on the verge of firing. ‘Damn you, you’re not leaving me!’” (187).
The Storm Kevin has difficulty adjusting to 1976. “He sounded as though he were looking for something, and after five years didn’t know where to find it.” (190). Dana begins to help Rufus and his mother with their estate. Rufus ends up selling a man who showed interest in Dana and when she reacts, he hits her. “And it was a mistake. It was the breaking of an unspoken agreement between us—a very basic agreement—and he knew it” (239).
The Rope Dana and Kevin have both adjusted to the 20th century. “The separations hadn’t been good for us, but they hadn’t hurt us much either. It was easy to be together, knowing we shared experiences no one else would believe” (243). After Alice’s death, Rufus attempts to rape Dana. She ends up killing him, deciding “I would never be to him what Tess had been to his father—a thing passed around like the whiskey jug at a husking” (260).
Epilogue Kevin and Dana seek closure together, and share a sense of relief. They are perceived as unusual by people, “who looked at Kevin and me, then looked again” (262). Rufus is dead, but Dana is still impacted by her experience with him. She has received a sort of closure from his death, knowing he can never call her back to the past: “The house was dust, like Rufus” (262).

 


 

Kindred offers an alternative to the typical portrayal of black people in science fiction. According to the reader’s guide, “…black people in much science fiction are represented as ‘other’” (275). Octavia Butler offers a sense of individuality for the characters as they are all presented in a unique way. Dana thinks of Sarah as

“…the kind of woman who might have been called “mammy” in some household. She was the kind of woman who would be held in contempt during the militant nineteen sixties. The house-n–, the handkerchief-head, the female Uncle Tom—the frightened powerless woman who had already lost all she could stand to lose, and who knew as little about the freedom of the North as she knew about the hereafter” (145).

Even though Dana is critical of Sarah’s acceptance of her position, Sarah still stands as a unique character representative of the impact of slave culture. Another accomplishment Octavia Butler makes in Kindred is highlighting the idea that despite the abolishment of slavery, racism was still present in 1976.

“…Dana is obliged to become Rufus Weylin’s secretary and handle his correspondence and bills; in 1976 Kevin had, unsuccessfully, but still revealingly, tried to get his wife to write his manuscripts and type his letters for him” (276).

In the epilogue, Dana discusses the double takes people in Maryland do when they see her and Kevin together, a biracial couple. Even though white supremacy might not have been as obvious in 1976, it was still present and Octavia Butler highlights the importance of eradicating modern day racism.

Through defending herself against Rufus, Dana provides herself with closure. She is able to assert her ownership of her body from Rufus’ attempted rape. Throughout the novel, Dana balances agency with safety. She desires to educate Rufus and defend herself against abuse from Tom and Margaret, but she resists due to possible consequences. Her 1976 perspective allows her to see herself outside of the slave culture that oppresses her. In the same way, Alice-who was born free-has a sense of self not held by other slaves. All of the slaves desire freedom, but Alice has the gumption to pursue it. After Hagar is born, Alice plans (and attempts) to run away. Even though she is caught and punished, she still tried to reach her goal. Both Alice and Dana hold a sense of ownership over their bodies. At the time, black women’s bodies were seen as sexual objects meant to pleasure their white owners. Alice continually rejects Rufus’ encounters, and although she is eventually subjugated, her initial response displays sense of agency. Contrarily, Dana succeeds in defending herself from Rufus. She absolutely refuses to let him have sex with her, and ends up killing him in self-defense.

In regard to Kevin, Dana views herself as his equal and his partner, but social differences still impact their relationship. Kevin holds more power than Dana, and this is evident in the impact that their experiences in the past had on them. Dana loses a piece of herself (her arm) and Kevin, while traumatized, did not understand the oppression she faced.

 

-M

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