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Analysis of Octavia Butler's Kindred

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After unwittingly heeding the call of her ancestor Kevin, Kindred’s early twentieth century protagonist Dana Franklin traveled time and again to the past era of 1819 wherein she became acquainted with the ways of life in the antebellum South and the horrors of slavery. In the section Fire, Dana both observed and experienced firsthand the abuse suffered by children and black people in the nineteenth century Maryland. In the first part, Dana recognized the corporal punishment commonly practiced by parents of that era to discipline their children as she viewed the fresh welts overlying old scars on Kevin’s back. She was also exposed to some derogatory titles given to people of color during that time as Kevin recalled how his mother dubbed Dana as just a “strange nigger”. In part 3, Dana witnessed for the first time the assault being meted out to slaves as she watched white patrollers whipping a black man in front of his family for unknown reasons then punching his wife in the face causing her to lose consciousness. And in part 4, she personally experienced sexual abuse as suffered almost being raped for being a black woman.

The section Fall

Dana and her husband Kevin travels back in time and stayed in antebellum South for a longer period of time wherein she experienced directly the injustices of being a slave of that era as she was introduced to the everyday life of a plantation. In part 3, she learns how the plantation owners resent educated black men because of the possibility that they might give the slaves ideas about freedom. In part 4, she is exposed to emotional violence as she realized how landowners retain the loyalty of their slaves by holding the unity of their slaves’ family as hostage to rebellion. As long as the slaves obey, their family members will not be sold off and become separated from each other. In part 5 to 6, Dana performed the tasks of a slave and suffered physical abuse from her mistress. She began to understand the futility of resistance as she restrained her resentment and will to fight like the other slaves with the memory of Tom Weylin’s brutality with a whip. In part 7, Dana was dismayed at the ease in which people easily adjust to the state of slavery as she said “The ease. Us, the children… I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.” (Butler 101) while watching black children enacting a slave auction as if it is an acceptable and expected part of their lives. She found herself succumbing to this same propensity when she was …”horrified to learn that, treated as an enslaved black woman, she will act like one” (Butler 183). She also realized the difference between a black woman and white man’s reaction to the injustices of the era after she and her husband watched the children’s game of slave auction. In contrast to Dana’s horrified response, Kevin took it lightly as a simple form of paly and said that the plantation is not as inhumane as he expected. And in part 8, Dana experienced intellectual oppression when she suffered a whipping after she was caught reading in the night and as she tried to remedy the illiteracy forced on black children.

The section the Fight

Dana became immersed and used to in the everyday life of a plantation. The rape and subsequent slavery of the free black woman, Alice, forced Dana to face the complete supremacy of the white race that considers all black people, whether free or slaves, as property (Butler part 7). Part 16 further opens Dana’s eyes to the poor plight of black women in that era who are passed from one man to another as bedmate and then tossed back to the field to do hard labor when they get tired of her.

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The sections of the Storm and Rope 

These sections are culmination of all the oppressions Dana saw and experienced in the antebellum South. In the Storm, Danastarts feeling lost in her own reality as she said “Rufus’s time was a sharper, stronger reality” (Butler 191). In part eleven of Storm, Dana’s comment that “[The slaves] seem to like [Rufus], hold him in contempt, and fear at the same time… I had thought my feelings were complicated because he and I had such a strange relationship. But then slavery of any kind fostered strange relationships” shows her realization that her feelings of hate and gratefulness for Rufus is something she shares with the other slaves who cannot help but welcome and enjoy the little gestures of goodwill from their master despite their deep-seated hatred for his oppression. In the end, Dana recognized that she is capable of extreme violence like killing when threatened with the possible loss of her self-identity. She proved this when she stabbed Rufus twice when he attempted to rape her, which she cannot allow especially after claiming that she is willing to seem like property but she is not willing to be property (Butler 246). And when she lost her arm at the “…exact spot Rufus’s fingers had grasped” (Butler 261), Dana realized that she has lost a part of herself to history.

As Dana is continuously yanked between 1976 and the nineteenth century Maryland, she couldn’t help but compare the differences between the two eras. As an independent and educated black woman married to a white man in a time wherein interracial marriage is still rare, Dana is not a stranger to racism. During her courtship with her husband Kevin, they often received ribbings as “chocolate and vanilla porn” (Butler 50) from coworkers. And when they decided to marry, they encountered objections from their families – distress from Dana’s uncle and ostracism from Kevin’s sister (The fight part 1) However, this racism is mild and not as oppressive as in the antebellum South where interracial romance is considered a taboo and even a criminal offense as supported by Margaret Weylin’s action of slapping Dana for sharing Kevin’s bed in “a Christian house!” (Butler 93). Furthermore, the dominant role of the male sex and the subservient role of females persist in both time periods. In the twentieth century, Kevin proposed that Dana quit her job and offered to let her type his manuscripts (Butler 109) signifying that man expects the woman to render a form of servitude in their relationship. When Kevin is transported with Dana in the antebellum South, he started to equate marriage as possession when he answered “In a way…She’s my wife” (Butler 60) to a slaveholder’s question of whether Dana belonged to him. In the nineteenth century south, male dominance is a fact of life as shown by the beatings Margaret received from her plantation owner husband. Finally, what Dana referred to as a “slave market” (Butler 53) in the twentieth century required her to do menial jobs in a temp office; whereas in the antebellum South, a slave works back-breaking jobs from the break of dawn till deep in the night without break and with very little sustenance.

If the setting of this story is changed to the present day 2010, some aspects of the story that would be changed or lost is the absolute male dominance in a marriage and ease of acceptance of the state of slavery. Present day women are more independent and self-assured and most would fight tooth and nail to establish their rights as shown by the various women’s rights movements all over the world. Most men have also learned to respect women as the latter tried to prove their capabilities by performing jobs that were male dominated in former years. Also, men worldwide have fought hard to establish and maintain their freedom throughout the centuries, hence I believe that they would try to fight harder and reverse slavery if it is forced on them.

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