The idea that permeates through the novel is one that the past and the present are deeply intervened: often, in more ways than one is accustomed to think they are. These connections are more delicate and intricate, and non-linear: another overarching theme in Kindred is how drastically one’s perception of a person or a situation can change if there is an aspect of personal involvement. The story shows how our contemporary, travelling to the eighteen-hundreds South, alters her perceptions on certain characters due to them being her ancestors, which otherwise she would never sympathize with. Thus, the novel expands upon the individual connection to one’s lineage – and the relationship between the past and present.
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The protagonist’s experiences in 1800s exhibit the extent of modern society progression, while also exposing the similarities in behavior that still linger from the era of slavery. While most of what a modern person can learn about the past, is able to ignite a strong emotion at the injustice and brutalities that took place, it leaves them removed as it is not in their direct experience. The novel breaks this wall of emotional safety by placing the narrator where the action is. Thus, two relationships develop concerning past and present: Dana’s modern perception at then-norms of the South and its customs, as well as her personal connection to the past as she finds her ancestor. Those ideas are sparking conflict in her mind: on one hand, the plantation owner’s son, whom she has affectionate feelings for being her family member, on the other — the revolting treatment of slaves by him and his family. In the end, critical thinking prevails, as the protagonist experiences his brutality on herself, rendering their relationship worthless to him. The relationship of the present and the past reflect Dana’s relationship with the characters of the plantation: even living in their era, it is nearly impossible to find common ground. Even at the most liberal attempts, those people are encapsulated and limited by their time, remaining a product of it.