“Kindred” by Octavia Butler

“Kindred” is a novel written by Octavia Butler, American writer who created an extraordinary combination of science fiction events and the issue of slavery. The book was published in 1979 and became popular in no time because it discusses the problems that are on the front burner even today. It reveals the story of a black woman who becomes a slave and suffers from the white men’s authority. “Kindred” occurs to be a skillfully organized mixture of the main issues that people face on personal and social levels and reveals the connection between the kindred and survival.

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Realizing that the novel is not a short piece of writing where every event is in the center of attention, Butler divided her text into chapters. The book starts with the epilogue, which is used to involve the readers in the imaginary world and acquaint them with it and its inhabitants. It makes the further reading more simplified, as the background is already known and one can concentrate on the problems that are described.

The author made each chapter connected with new event, another time travel. In this way, she underlined that the attention is to be paid not to the whole story as a description of past, but to each episode separately. The scenes are like stages that resemble how a person can change with the course of time.

Dana, the main character, comes to save an innocent child but sees him growing up and turning into a monster. The book ends with an epilogue, which shows that the past has an immense influence on the present and future. Dana and her husband Kevin, are willing to prove that the people she spent time with really existed, and it encourages the readers to refer to their past, to examine their generation trees and bring to mind people to whom they owe their lives.

In her novel, the author skillfully intertwined past and present, underlying their interdependence and turning them into the framework of “Kindred” (Hua 391). As Dana comes to a new house, she starts a new life and seems to be reborn, not bounded by the previous problems and grievances. When she starts unpacking, Dana opens a kind of Pandora’s Box that is stored with her antecedents and turns out to be called to the past by her ancestor, Rufus, to save him. Each time he is in danger, Dana comes to help.

Even though she does not realize it from the very beginning, her life depends on his, and it cannot be changed, which is the true power of kindred: “no matter what I did, he would have to survive to father Hanger, or I could not exist” (Butler 29). In the climax of Kindred, Dana kills Rufus and gets back to the present. She closes the box as if it is an old photo album that revealed lots of memories. She dives into the past easily and unwillingly, but it takes lots of time and effort to resurface, which emphasizes that people do not control their birth and affiliation to the particular family but need to struggle when they want changes.

The author reveals different themes and issues in the novel, but the most vivid one is kindred, which goes through the whole text and can be seen in the title. “You and her. One woman. Two halves of a whole”, says Rufus about Dana and Alice (her ancestor), claiming that they are tightly connected. Of course, he does not know about their real relations but he feels the bondage between them, the one that comes with blood. The relationships between the spouses are also valuable.

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As Dana starts to travel in time and faces problems in the past, the support that she receives from her husband becomes more significant. Trying to reassure her, Kevin says: “take it easy… Whatever happens, it’s not going to do you any good to panic yourself again”, he even gives her a promise to do everything possible to be near and help: “I’m going to do all I can to see that you never come here alone again” (Butler 17, 81).

Butler also pays the readers’ attention to the fact that it is not enough to create a new family to live a full life. When Dana was going to marry, she searched for her aunt and uncle’s approval. Unfortunately, they did not want to see her with a white man and make the woman frustrated. Still, she tried to gain their understanding. With the help of this scene, Butler wanted to show that all people wish to have family bondage and feel the support from their nearest and dearest.

Dana knew that her relatives would not be happy to see her with Kevin, but she tried to appeal to them. In this way, the author wanted the readers to evaluate their actions and realize that family is the most important thing (Jesser 42). Those issues connected with racial discrimination occurred to be more significant than Dana’s happiness to her relatives, and Butler does not want us to make the same mistake.

The novel attracts the readers’ attention to the problem of inequality, race, and gender discrimination. Still, even though the book is mainly focused on the adversity faced by Dana, it aims not just to make the readers understand her and those who are abused. Butler wants them to believe in themselves, in their powers and to understand that there are no problems that cannot be solved because having the courage and struggling people can survive and get out of a jam (Hua 393). In other words, not suffering but fighting for survival is to be considered when speaking about “Kindred.”

Speaking about the troubles faced by Dana, Butler also showed her will even though it was not underlined so much. Needless to say that the most obvious message that is sent by the author is the fact that racial discrimination and slavery not just made people suffer but ruined their lives. Dana was a happy woman before she was taken from her home and almost imprisoned by a white man, Tom Weylin, a cruel slave owner was violent to his slaves and even to his children. As a result, his son Rufus turns into the hard person too.

As Dana realizes that her time travels are connected with Rufus, she seems to lose the control over her life. Now when he is in danger, she has nothing to do but to be near. Being in the past, she becomes a slave, a person with no rights who have to obey the master or to receive punishment. Still, she is not going to give up easily. Dana realizes that “most of the people around Rufus know more about real violence than the screenwriters of today ever will” (Butler 48).

However, she tries to escape and to get home. This situation proves that she is not ready to accept the situation, in which she was put. Dana shows her courage because she does not leave her determination even though she is afraid of what might happen. She says that Sarah is “the house-nigger, 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 freedom of the North as she knew about the hereafter” (Butler 145).

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With these words, she shows her attitude towards people who are ready to yield to the circumstances. They are weak, dependent and not able to live their own lives. She does not want to become the same person and is constantly searching for some way out. Still, with the course of time, Dana loses her determination even though she continues waiting for some improvement.

Being in the center of the novel, Dana embodies all women who suffer because they do not have enough power. It turns out that she is also not strong enough to defeat herself in any situation, as she is severely beaten and thinks that it is time to stop escaping (West 74). In this scene, the author tries to appeal to the readers and make them consider what they would do in Dana’s place.

Is it better to become a part of the slave’s world or to create a new one, a community that will struggle until it wins? Butler wrote the novel from the first-person perspective, and this “I” makes the readers identify themselves with Dana. The character decides to use all the influence she has on Rufus and help those around her to escape the state when they are treated like property. Dana cannot give up because if she does, her ancestor may be killed and she will not be born.

By her example, all women are also encouraged to do everything they can to ensure that they and their families will be free from any adverse influence from the outside. Butler refers to the time travel to show the importance of the “Kindred” in terms of survival. She assumes that the actions of one person can have an immense influence on the life of a family, ethnicity and society in general.

The author shows that the will to survive can be adopted by others, and then together they will surely become strong enough to reach improvement (Asunder 17). Dana does not give up. She kills her master, kills the very source of problems and makes free not only herself but all people that lived with her under the same conditions. Butler says that Dana loses her hand in this fight, but, losing the hand, she gains freedom and life.

Of course, “Kindred” was written to influence the readers, change their attitudes towards their families and make them more persistent, courageous and fearless. Still, except for that, it also reveals several social issues. As a rule, science fiction is connected with some progress made by the population, but it reflects the horrors of slavery this time (West 72).

Butler wanted to educate her readers and to make them remember how their ancestors suffered when they were losing their humanity and learning how to survive (Hua 395). In Dana’s opinion, even cruel slave-owners were not terrible people. She understood that their actions were like that because the society accepted them: “[Tom Weylin] wasn’t a monster at all. Just an ordinary man who sometimes did the monstrous things his society said were legal and proper” (Butler 134).

It is a kind of warning that shows what will happen if people will not treat each other equally remembering that they all are a huge family. The author also underlines that it is very important for everyone to be free and independent. But she also shows that one is to take pains to have such opportunity, as independence means facing consequences of your actions.

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It is seen that the author delivered lots of messages with the help of the novel, but it would not be possible if she did not use dynamic characters as the main ones. The readers perceive the world of “Kindred” from the Dana’s point of view. They sense the feeling of powerlessness and yielding circumstances when she occurs to be unable to keep herself in present. Dana appears as a rather courageous female, in the beginning, but being treated a slave, she loses her will and renovates it.

She comes to save the life and leaves ending it. Dana is in a constant action. She is traveling in time, and she moves towards her goals. Even in the epilogue, Dana is flying to Baltimore to continue her search. Rufus, who seems to be her opposition, also develops or maybe even degrades. At first, the readers see him as a victim, a child who is not able to fight for himself and needs protection.

With the course of time, he turns into a tyrant, a person who humiliates others and from whom the protection is required. Butler even provided the readers with a hint that showed that something bad is going to happen in future: “The boy already knew more about revenge than I did. What kind of man was he going to grow up into?” (Butler 25).

Dana realized that the bloodiness of the past would influence Rufus adversely. She came from a peaceful world and could not accept the violent one: “I could recall feeling relief at seeing the house, feeling that I had come home. And having to stop and correct myself, remind myself that I was in an alien, dangerous place” (Butler 190). Still, during even the time she spent in this world, Dana became affected by it, which can be seen in a scene when she kills Rufus.

Providing the readers with historical information and attracting them by science-fiction events, Butler shows them not only the rain and pain of life in slavery but also underlines the necessity to be strong-willed and encouraged the readers to fight for their well-being instead of enduring and accepting sufferings. “Kindred” reveals the importance of the family and the support that its members reveal to one another.

With the help of situations faced by her characters, Butler tries to make the relatives care about each other and put aside their dissidences based on the attitudes towards race and other background problems. She claims that social issues are extremely significant and have a great influence on the people’s lives, but there is nothing more vital than a family and peace in it.

Works Cited

Asunder, Terryn. Women, Community, and Power in Octavia Butler’s ‘Kindred’. 2011. Web.

Butler, Octavia E. Kindred. Boston, MA: Beacon, 2006. Print.

C S’Thembile West. “The Competing Demands of Community Survival and Self-Preservation in Octavia Butler’s Kindred.” Femspec 7.2 (2006): 72-88. Print.

Hua, Linh. “Reproducing Time, Reproducing History: Love and Black Feminist Sentimentality in Octavia Butler’s Kindred.” African American Review 44.3 (2011): 391-407. Print.

Jesser, Nancy. “Blood, genes and gender in Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Dawn.” Extrapolation 43.1 (2002): 36-61. Print.

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