Generally, ‘Kindred’ is centered on family and interracial relationships with a backdrop of intermittent time travel here and there. The book serves as a good therapy for uniting all races – particularly black and white. Let’s take a sneak peek into some of the best ones in the book.
Family and Kinship
Family and kinship is easily the most prominent theme in ‘Kindred’ by Octavia E. Butler – and this also shows in the naming of the book. Strong bonds of kinship are responsible for the important events that take place, and it starts with Dana and Rufus, both of whom share the same blood. Rufus is able to send some kind of SOS to the future to Dana, creating a portal for her to come and save him and preserve her own future existence.
‘Kindred’ reeks of uncertainties and a violent turn of events from page to page. The slavers are ever so brutal and mean to their slaves and would often whip, abuse, forcefully instruct, and even maim their slaves. As readers would notice, Alice’s legal husband Isaac has his ear mutilated before being taken away from her.
Also, there’s a general atmosphere of chaos and tumult often involving slaves and their owners in all the neighborhoods of 1800s Maryland. Lastly, a violent struggle with Rufus on her last trip causes Dana to permanently lose her left arm.
Education and Freedom
Education is a frontal theme in ‘Kindred‘ and even serves as the first step for slaves to gain their freedom. Dana’s education is very vital in ensuring that she has it easy in Rufus’ timeline, often serving as his teacher. She also secretly teaches Nigel, a Black slave, in the hopes that someday he will buy his freedom with it.
Key Moments in Kindred
- At the hospital, Dana wakes to find that her left arm has been amputated, and her husband Kelvin is being questioned by the police – who are ready to put him in jail.
- She fights through the pain to recall how she got here, and it all started a year ago, in June 1976, when she and Kelvin had just moved to their new apartment. While they unpack, she blacks out, finding herself by the river in the early 1800s, where she sees a boy drowning.
- She saves him and finds he’s called Rufus Weylin, but when the boy’s father arrives, pointing a riffle at Dana, she is afraid and returns to her 1976 timeline at her apartment. Kelvin is perplexed seeing her also with mud on her feet. Dana explained where she went, but her husband had a hard time believing her.
- A few hours later, Dana feels unwell again and finds herself in a bedroom with a burning curtain and Rufus seated and staring. She douses the fire and vehemently questions the boy, wanting to know how this is happening to her.
- Rufus tells Dana they’re in the year 1815 Maryland often uses terms like ‘nigger’ or ‘Black woman’ on her. Dana recalls that her great-grandmother’s name is Hagar, the daughter of Alice Greenwood and Rufus Weylin – the boy who’s somehow summoning her to his timeline.
- She decides to locate Alice but is caught by a guard whom she knocks out to prevent being rapped, and as she’s terrified for what would happen next, she wakes up to the present day in her bedroom.
- Kelvin nurses her wounds, but after a while, she feels weak and then travels (this time with Kelvin) to a field to find two boys, Rufus with a broken leg – apparently fallen from a tree, and Nigel, a slave boy who serves as a helper to Rufus.
- Dana helps get Rufus home and is made to look after him by Tom, Rufus’ father, while Kelvin pretends as Dana’s master. Kelvin help educates Rufus, and Dana secretly does the same for Nigel but is caught by Tom – who whips her till she nearly faints and returns to her timeline (without Kelvin).
- At her apartment, Dana nurses her wounds alone and misses Kelvin. Eight days have passed, and suddenly she feels sick again and returns to the 1800s (five years later in this timeline) – where she finds Rufus nearly being killed with a beating from Isaac, Alice’s husband, for rapping Alice.
- Dana begs to save Rufus and carries him home afterward. Alice and Isaac escape but are caught days later, as Rufus bought Alice from her captors, leaving Isaac to be sold to far away Mississippi.
- Dana writes several letters trying to find Kelvin, but Rufus wouldn’t let her leave and instead persuades her to convince Alice to be his concubine. Alice plays along to avoid physical torture.
- One day, Dana escapes in search of Kelvin but is caught by Rufus and Tom, his father. She is beaten heavily and taken back. Later, Tom sends Dana’s letters, and Kelvin shows up at the Weylin house. When the couple tries to escape, Rufus intersects them with a gun and threatens to kill them both. Dana is scared, so she jumps back to the present day, taking Kelvin with her.
- Hours later, Dana is wary and goes back to find (and treat) Rufus, who is sick and unconscious. It’s been six years since Rufus and Alice have been seeing and now have a son Joe, but he has yet to give birth to Hagar; Dana can’t wait for this to happen so can finally be free from Rufus.
- Tom dies from a heart attack as Rufus recovers, but the blame goes to Dana as Rufus punishes her – making her do hard labor in the field for not being able to save his father. He later has mercy on her, making her the head of administration for the Weylin estate, and also assigns her to care for his mother, Margaret, who’s now hooked on laudanum.
- By now, Rufus has increased romantic interest in Dana and even views her as a second wife. Alice gives birth to Hagar and attempts to run away but is later caught. Rufus sells a slave to talk to Dana, but Dana is angered by this that she slits her wrist to escape to her timeline.
- In her own timeline, Dana stays with Kelvin for two weeks as they talk about Rufus. Dana resolves she might have to kill Rufus if he tries to take advantage of her.
- Suddenly, Dana gets dizzy and jumps into the past, this time finding a despondent Rufus. It turns out he is that way because Alice had killed herself after Rufus told her he had sold Joe and Hagar. Dana comforts him, asking him to accept and take responsibility for his children.
- Feeling whimsical one day, Rufus tries to make love to Dana against her consent, but Dana buries a knife in his chest. As Rufus lies dying, Dana is afraid and starts to feel dizzy, and as she jumps to the present day, she loses her left arm after it gets stuck between the walls of Rufus’ timeline.
- Dana wakes in the hospital, and following her discharge, she and Kelvin trace the Weylin family and what remained of it. They read in the papers that Rufus died in a fire accident (but Dana knows Nigel must have covered up her crime). They also find that Carrie married Nigel, and both couples adopted Joe and Hagar and relocated to Baltimore, where they were raised properly.
Style and Tone
In ‘Kindred’, Butler utilizes her lead character, Dana, to tell the story in the first-person perspective – thus enabling readers to have a mono-view of the whole story. Dana subjectively tells the story for everyone and decides for the reader who to perceive or feel about all the other characters. The tone is somber and melancholic, and the diction is simple and minimalistic.
Butler utilizes several figurative languages in ‘Kindred’, with metaphors being especially seen throughout the book. Aside from metaphorical expressions being the most obvious, there’s also a mixture of other interesting figurative languages such as irony, simile, allusions et cetera.
Analysis of Symbols in Kindred
In ‘Kindred’, maps represent the motif of liberty and freedom. It’s almost a given that any slave who is in possession of one has the tool to free themselves – because they will have in their hands the routes to escape from.
The whip and cane are used on the Black slaves as well as on horses and other animals, and this goes on and on throughout the book ‘Kindred’. As a tool used by only the white men, it symbolizes their control, power, and authority over everything – including other races.
Kelvin is the husband of the protagonist Dana, but his character also could stand as a symbol of how the ideal human and white man should be. After he follows Dana to the past, he spends a whole five years of stay educating and freeing as many slaves as he can. Kelvin represents unity, selflessness, and love.
What single theme proliferates Butler’s ‘Kindred’?
Violence is gleaned throughout‘ Kindred,’ and readers get to notice lots of canning and whipping and forcing and coercion. Kingship and family are other frontal themes in the book.
What figurative expression is mostly found in ‘Kindred’?
Metaphorical expressions appear to be Butler’s go-to figurative language, and she uses them so well they bring the book to life.
How does Dana lose her left arm in ‘Kindred’?
On her last time trip, and while she tries to return home to her timeline, Dana has her left arm clasped against the walls where the dying Rufus lay.