About the Book

Book Protagonist: Edana Franklin
Publication Date: 1979
Genre: Literary Fiction, Science Fiction

Historical Context


By Octavia E. Butler

‘Kindred’ by Octavia E. Butler has a historical context tied to the history of slavery and interracial relationships that existed between white and Black races.

In ‘Kindred,’ readers are taken back to the 1800s Maryland, one of the several US states where the practice of slavery was red hot at the time. During these times, interracial relationships between white and black were mostly characterized by white hegemony as most black men were slave laborers, with their women mostly forced to be mistresses. The historical context of ‘Kindred’ will be explored here.

Kindred Background

Kindred’ was inspired by a comment by a member of the public who held an opinion that older African-Americans were betrayers of their own Black race because he found them overly subservient. This opinion sparked Butler’s interest in the topic, and even though she disagreed with such an opinion, she knew that a lot of young people shared a similar opinion because they knew little about the past and how that had affected the older Afro-Americans.

With such conviction, Butler set out to connect the historical context that would help answer and explain such doubts and opinions held by people. Butler’s research mission took her down south into the antebellum Maryland society. Using the information she had gotten, Butler decided to write ‘Kindred,’ a book where her lead character will have the ability to go back in time to find out what really happened to African-Americans that might have affected the present-day generation.

A Story Tied to the Antebellum South

Kindred’ by Octavia E. Butler is a story that shares close connections with 1800s contemporary American south and the slavery that ravaged it. The book gleans out the relationship existing between slave masters – who were usually white – and their slaves – who were mostly Black.

Maryland becomes a primary setting in ‘Kindred’ thanks to its history of heightened slavery activities in the early 19th century. Before writing her book ‘Kindred,’ Octavia E. Butler recounted conducting several pieces of research in and around Maryland – including visiting many libraries and exploring a few plantations to be more abreast of the topic to which she was going to write.

She recalled gathering some really helpful data for her story following her exploration of Maryland and its various slavery hotspots. Butler found the pieces of information she gathered interesting and overwhelming that when she finally sat down to write ‘Kindred,’ she decided not to include all the fine details of her research – for they were too intense and shocking, and all she wanted to do was write a book that people would love to read.

There’s a Grim Side to Every History

At the cause of researching for the final writing of her book ‘Kindred,’ Butler found several angles that didn’t quite sit right with the whole story. For example, in addition to a clear white control over Black, there were the aspects of forced concubinage, blatant sexual abuse, and rape of female Black women- which is how, in the book, Dana comes to have a white ancestor in Rufus following the abuse of a Black woman, Alice.

For the Black man, being under servitude and working out their freedom on a white man’s plantation was hardly the last thing they could worry about. Their misery went far beyond just that to include their being viewed as a pariah by society – a sort of stain, and it got so extreme that it was impossible for a white woman ever to look their way in terms of marital affairs. With ‘Kindred,’ Butler tried to do justice to such important history of the human race but made it read as graphic as it possibly could be.


What was Butler’s initial plan for her lead character in ‘Kindred’?

Butler initially designated her lead character to be male, but later changed plans and decided to go with a female – thus her decision to use Dana Franklin.

Why did Butler set her novel ‘Kindred’ in Altadena Maryland?

Kindred’ was going to cover a timeline of slavery, and Butler’s research led her to Maryland- which is one of the apparent states with rich stories about slavery.

What inspired Butler to write ‘Kindred’?

Butler’s inspiration for creating ‘Kindred’ came as a result of a viral opinion that claimed that older generations of African-Americans were forsaking Black consciousness culture by being too subservient.

Victor Onuorah
About Victor Onuorah
Victor is as much a prolific writer as he is an avid reader. With a degree in Journalism, he goes around scouring literary storehouses and archives; picking up, dusting the dirt off, and leaving clean even the most crooked pieces of literature all with the skill of analysis.
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