Research Paper on Kindred
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel back into the 19th century and witness one of the most horrific time periods in history? The antebellum South and slavery during that time period was arguably the most catastrophic events to ever occur in US history.
Kindred, a novel by Octavia Butler, is the story of a young black women, Dana, who is living in Los Angeles in the mid-1970’s and is miraculously transported back into the early 1800’s. Dana is sent to the South, where she is given the task of saving her ancestor, Rufus, a young white boy who is the son of a slave owner. Rufus will eventually rape a free black girl named Alice, who he is sexually attracted too. It turns out that Alice is a very important link in Dana’s ancestry and Dana must try to help Alice escape harm from Rufus. Dana is continuously sent back and forth between the 19th and 20th century. Dana must choose between saving Rufus from life threatening situations or to let the young boy she grows so close too die because of his future involvement with slave abuse. This seems like a very easy decision for Dana, why would she help save a boy who will grow into an evil slave owner? Dana has one major dilemma: if she doesn’t save Rufus, her ancestry will be broken and she may never get back to the 20th century.
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Dana is first called upon to save the life of the young Rufus after he nearly drowns in a river. This is the first time Dana is transported to the 19th century and she has no idea who Rufus is. For the first time, Dana actually comes in contact with the boy who will change her life forever and be the link between her and her ancestors. As time goes on, Dana grows up with Rufus and becomes almost a mentor to him. Dana is the one who teaches Rufus how to read and write.
Rufus really accepts Dana as his friend and he helps her avoid regular slave treatment and beatings by his father, Tom Weylin. As they grow older Rufus will become very dependent of Dana and Dana will also be very dependent on Rufus.
Over the next 20 years Dana will be called upon by some supernatural force to save Rufus, who she grows to both love and hate. Rufus transforms throughout time from being a lovable young boy, to a hated slave owner just like his father. Dana attempts to save Rufus from the wicked mentality of a white slave owner in the South during the early years of the 19th century. Her attempts will bring the relationship between these characters very close and will ultimately lead in the death of one of them.
The relationship between Rufus and Dana plays a vital role in all major aspects of the novel. Dana describes her relationship to Rufus as, “my ancestor, my little brother, my friend, but not as my master, and not as my lover (Butler 260).” As time goes on and Rufus is separated from his mother who moves to Baltimore, he begins to look at Dana as the replacement for his mother. Dana is determined to keeping Rufus from growing up into a man who will injure and rape Alice. However, she grows close enough to Rufus that she doesn’t want to hurt him either unless she absolutely has to. Her character and knowledge of the time period allows her to live through the slavery period, but not without a few dangerous scenarios. Dana’s encounter with violence against slave’s changes here approach to survival in the early 1800’s. She must save Rufus no matter how badly she doesn’t want to, and she must do whatever it is going to take to make it back to Los Angeles alive.
Rufus’s personality and actions are very unpredictable at some points in the story. He can go from very concerned and compassionate towards Dana, but he can instantly change into being a very dangerous threat to Dana. Rufus many times comes very close to injuring or even killing Dana, but she avoids being assaulted by him. Dana is a much wiser than Rufus and she has a very powerful influence of the decisions that Rufus makes. When Dana is called to save Rufus after he is severely beaten by Alice’s husband, who is a slave, Dana talks Rufus into not turning him in and to tell his father he was attacked by white men. By doing this Dana is allowing Alice and her husband time to runaway. This is very difficult for Rufus to do because he is so attached to Alice that he doesn’t want her to go. This influence that she has over Rufus makes allows her to almost have a position of power over Rufus. Rufus would never have let Alice and her husband, Isaac, get away if it had not been for his respect for Dana and what she had said to him (Butler 126).
The relationship between Rufus and Dana in Kindred goes against every expectation that a person would have of a black woman and a white man in the antebellum South. They rely on each other in a time period when African Americans weren’t even thought of as people. Dana is looked at by other slaves on the Weylin’s plantation as a “white nigger” (Butler 160). How could the relationship between Dana and Rufus be so affable when he would become the rapist of her innocent ancestor? Well, not everything between Dana and Rufus ends up being so practical. As Rufus grows older in time, his love for Dana also grows. The desire he once showed toward Alice is slowly converting into a desire to want to possess Dana. Dana recognizes how Rufus is becoming a more controlling figure towards her and she realizes that she is in danger. When Rufus finally can’t take his desire for Dana, he attempts to rape her and this is when Dana finally turns on Rufus and kills him. Dana had done what she had been sent back to the 19th century to do, by saving Rufus long enough for him to rape Alice, which was an unfortunate event, but she did what she had to do to make it back to the 20th century and to be reunited with her husband in Los Angeles.
The relationship between Dana and Rufus is one that many Americans of the 19th and 20th century would view as unbelievable. How could Rufus, a white slave owner, fall in love with a black woman in the 19th century when he is supposed to uphold a house of slaves and beat and abuse them? The relationship brings you through a rollercoaster ride, where you many times are confused on what to think about the connection between Rufus and Dana. At many instances you feel like this is a truly passionate friendship but the next thing you know, you want Dana to just be safe at home and not ever have to come in contact with Rufus. However, there is also many times when it seems like Rufus is actually being impacted by the presence of Dana and that he will turn out a good man in the end. Unfortunately, we find that the relationship between these two characters becomes hostile and Dana must kill Rufus.
Traveling back into the 19th century, after being brought up in a time where slavery doesn’t exist makes Dana very vulnerable to abuse. She must adapt quickly and learn how to survive in a period where most people of her race did not. Her experiences of being put back into a slave society cause both terror and harm to Dana, but it also helps her to understand what her ancestor went through during this time period (Crossley xviii). Dana uses her friendship and power over Rufus to keep herself safe in the early 1800’s. The relationship among Dana and Rufus enlightens them on views prevalent to a time period which they both do not know much about. Dana not knowing the life of a slave, and Rufus not knowing what life in the future will be like. The relationship they shared will affect them both for the rest of their lives, Rufus will be killed, and Dana will lose her arm and be scarred for the rest of her life in the 20th century.
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Prologue, The River, and The Fire
1. Dana is confronted almost immediately by the brutality of the exploitation of blacks by whites in the antebellum South. Explore how the legislation of the time allowed for this exploitation.
2. Why do you think that Octavia Butler chose to write a book about time travel to discuss the history of slavery in the United States?
1. Examine the character of Margaret Weylin. How does Octavia Butler use her as an example of a woman of privilege living in the United States in the 1800s?
2. Based on what you have read thus far, examine how the laws of the antebellum South informs the sexual mores of the era.
1. Throughout the novel, Octavia Butler includes flashbacks to the beginnings of Dana and Kevin’s marriage. Why are these details important? How does the experience of Dana and Kevin as an interracial couple in the 1970s, and the racism they face, compare with their experiences in the American South of the 1800s?
2. Examine the character of Rufus Weylin. Do you think he is a fundamentally good or a fundamentally bad person
1. Compare and contrast Rufus Weylin to his father. In what ways has he become like his father? In what ways is he different? Are these differences for better or for worse?
2. Examine the character of Alice. How is she different in this chapter from the last? What brings about these changes?
1. Why is the book titled Kindred? What is the significance of this title?
2. Rufus tells Dana that she and Alice are like two halves of the same woman. He says this at a significant point—at the novel’s climax. In light of the ancestral relationship between Alice and Dana, how is this comment metaphorically significant?