“Kindred” by Octavia Butler Literature Analysis Essay

“Kindred” is a book that tells the story of slavery, survival, and love. Octavia Butler employs the thriller genre to present her slavery narrative. Butler’s narrative can be summarized as the main character’s journey in which she meets her ancestor, saves her ancestor, and then kills her ancestor. “Kindred” does make use of strong emotions such as those used in Tony Morrison’s book “Beloved.”

Also, the author does not invest too much in her characters as Hailey did in “Roots.” However, the book manages to present the reader with a realistic possibility of being involved in slavery. The author of “Kindred” labels the book as a work of science fiction even though the book fits more into other genres such as thriller, time travel, black history fiction, drama, and love story genres.

The book begins in 1976 when a couple is moving into a new house. The couple consists of Kevin, a white novelist and his wife, twenty-six-year-old African American aspiring writer Edana Franklin. When the two are unpacking their belongings, Dana starts feeling dizzy, passes out, and finds herself in an unfamiliar world. Dana finds herself in front of a river where a white boy is drowning. Instinctively, she jumps into the river and saves the boy.

This is in spite of the fact that the boy’s mother is yelling to Dana to “get her black hands off her son” (Butler 11). The boy’s father points a gun to Dana’s head, and before he shoots her, she is taken back to her apartment where Kevin is looking at her in awe. Dana’s husband informs her that she had been teleported, but even before she processes this information, it happens again.

Dana meets with the same boy while he is trying to burn down a house and manages to rescue him in time. This time Dana manages to ask some questions, and she learns that she is involved in time travel and the little boy is his ancestor. Dana has been picked to be the one who keeps the boy alive until he can start his ancestry (Butler 24). Therefore, if the boy dies before starting a bloodline, Dana’s existence will be in jeopardy.

In the course of her time travel episodes, Dana comes face to face with many misfortunes including almost being raped and killed. Her biggest challenge is to identify herself in 1815 because she does not have the necessary identification documents (Butler 78). In the next few weeks, Dana is involved in various instances of time travel where she is supposed to rescue Rufus, her ancestor.

In the course of these events, she becomes close with some of the slaves in Rufus’ plantation. Also, she is involved in several adventures, including time traveling with her white husband. For instance, at one time, her husband is left stranded, and Dana “has to go back five years to rescue him” (Butler 135).

The book mostly relies on the main character when telling the slavery story. The main heroine is a knowledgeable African American woman who is married to a white novelist. Dana’s wide knowledge of historical and social matters is very instrumental during her time travel episodes. The author uses the heroine to explore black history. When Dana is transported to the past, she adapts to that environment with ease. Her intellect helps her in understanding the plight of a nineteenth century black woman.

During her time at the plantation, Dana faces her predicament with dignity. In spite of all the things that happen to Dana, she just shrugs them off and keeps on going. She avoids getting involved in any of the modern Civil Rights palaver. It would be correct to assume that any person from the Civil Rights’ Era would be too eager to preach the equal rights gospel to the stakeholders of slavery. However, the author chooses not to delve into this angle and creates a character who understands the history and the scenarios surrounding slavery.

Moreover, Dana’s attitude towards the characters she encounters during her time travel is civil and compassionate. Dana’s role is to be an observer of slavery and not a critic. The main character recognizes that her protests will not change either the past or the future. All she needs to do is to ensure that the past is not distorted so that her current life is guaranteed.

For instance, she does not try to ‘change Rufus’ behavior’ during her interactions with him (Butler 102). By not being vocal against slavery and the other injustices she encounters, Butler’s main character acts as a trustworthy slavery observer. Dana seems to understand that the characters she encounters are a product of their time, and that is why she carries on with her life unperturbed by people’s actions.

Nevertheless, Dana is not ignorant of the challenges she witnesses during her time travel. This is in line with the author’s aim of exploring slavery from the inside while still maintaining a periodical distance. The same applies to Kevin when he travels back to 1815. Although he has the advantage of not being mistaken for a slave, he does not try to alter the dynamics of the past. The only radical activity Kevin engages in is “aiding escaping slaves” (Butler 199). However, this was a common practice during the slavery period.

The metaphor of time travel is used extensively in this book. The author uses time travel to subdivide the sections in her book. Each time-travel episode in the book gives a complete section of the story. The time travel metaphor is not used as a scientific aspect, but it is used to show the passage of time. The author does not explain the mechanisms of time travel, but she uses it as an interface between the past and the present. The simple nature of this time travel shows how people consider slavery as a simple occurrence.

At the beginning of the book, time travel is a little shocking, but as the book progresses, it becomes mundane. The metaphor of time travel shows how easy it is for people to get used to the institution of slavery in the same Dana gets used to time travel and slavery.

The main character’s inability to control her time travel episodes is a metaphor for how the people who were entrapped in slavery were unable to control their fate. Dana moves back and forth in her time travel episodes, just like the people who were involved in slavery were moved around by its events.

“Kindred” is more about fantasy time travel than it is about science and fiction. First, the author does not try to explain the metaphysics behind the time travel aspect. This implies the science behind the time travel is irrelevant to the story being told. Butler’s characters just find themselves in a tricky situation, and they try their best to maneuver through their predicaments and come out alive. The essence of time travel is to allow the plot to develop.

The author explores how modern people would fare in slavery, Maryland irrespective of their race. In one instance, Dana claims that reality in 1815 is “a sharper and stronger reality” (Butler 191). The author uses Dana and her husband as a thought provocation mechanism. Through these two main characters, the reader can contemplate what it would be like to survive through the most difficult days of slavery. Also, readers can think about how this experience would change their historical outlook.

Depending on whether the reader is white or black, his/her survival chances would vary. The question of how an individual might react to the slavery environment also comes up. Several people would react differently to how Dana reacted. For instance, most people would be too eager to demand their rights and freedoms, while others would most likely urge the enslaved characters to revolt.

The author makes Dana’s quick adaptation to slavery seem easy. However, readers find it hard to believe that an ordinary human being would adapt to such hardships with ease. The author wants the readers to believe that the main actor easily adapted to her new environment with few reservations. For instance, Dana observes that “the slaves seemed to like Rufus and fear him at the same time” (Butler 229). However, this outcome is quite unlikely in such a scenario.

Although the book is fictional, it would be more realistic if the main character put up a resistance against her new predicament. The author fronts her book as a work of science fiction. However, her work ignores the parameters of science fiction. Science fiction readers would find the book substandard in various aspects. The author also seems to misuse several literary genres in a bid to pass her message across. Science fiction is one of the genres that the author associates her work with but fails to abide by their disciplines.

Moreover, the author touches on time travel and love story genres but does not fully commit to these genres. The author avoids abiding in any specific genre in a bid to remain true to her core themes. However, the author risked producing substandard literary work by not abiding by any specific genre.

The book’s author presents a near accurate 1815, but her 1976 is too idealized. According to the author, the main character has not encountered any major racial prejudice in her life. This would be an unlikely development in 1976 because racial prejudice was common. Therefore, Dana would have encountered racial prejudice in the course of her education, her social encounters, or her part-time job.

According to the author, Dana could have been “the little woman who knew very little about freedom….the female Uncle Tom” (Butler 145). This assumption prompts the reader to speculate that the main character was living in a 1976 Utopia. This would also mean that the book was a challenge to African Americans who are ignorant of their slavery history.

Although the author makes several genre-related oversights, “Kindred” is a fascinating and thrilling time-travel account. The author strikes a perfect balance between fiction and human drama. The author relies on her well-balanced main character to deliver her message to the readers. Overall, the book is a well-researched time travel cum black history account on the effects of slavery on a modern white or black American.

Works Cited

Butler, Octavia. Kindred , New York, NY: Beacon Press, 1988. Print.

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kindred analysis essay

Octavia E. Butler

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Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Octavia E. Butler's Kindred . Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Kindred: Introduction

Kindred: plot summary, kindred: detailed summary & analysis, kindred: themes, kindred: quotes, kindred: characters, kindred: symbols, kindred: theme wheel, brief biography of octavia e. butler.

Kindred PDF

Historical Context of Kindred

Other books related to kindred.

  • Full Title: Kindred
  • When Published: 1979
  • Literary Period: Contemporary literature
  • Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Neo-Slave Narrative, Literature
  • Setting: California, 1976 and Maryland, pre-Civil War
  • Climax: When Rufus finally crosses the line of Dana’s freedom and attempts to rape her, Dana manages to stab Rufus and kill him. She returns to her present, but loses her left arm in the process.
  • Antagonist: Tom Weylin, the institution of slavery, racism and discrimination
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for Kindred

Contemporary remake. As of 2017, Kindred has been adapted to a graphic novel by writer Damien Duffy and illustrator John Jennings, bringing this visceral account of slavery to a new audience and updating it to address the racial upheaval of recent years in America.

Gender dynamics. Dana, the main character of Kindred , was originally planned to be a male protagonist. Butler then developed a female protagonist in order to explore the ways that women would be treated as if they were weak and safe when they could really be powerful and dangerous.

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Octavia Butler’s Kindred: Essay Example

Kindred essay: introduction, kindred essay: analysis of the novel, kindred essay: conclusion, works cited.

“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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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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Literary Analysis Of The Novel Kindred By Octavia Butler

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