Kindred


Octavia Butler?s novel Kindred is categorized as science fiction because of the existence of time travel. However, the novel does not center on the schematics of this type of journey. Instead, the novel deals with the relationships forged between a Los Angeles woman from the 20th century, and slaves from the 19th century. Therefore, the mechanism of time travel allows the author a sort of freedom when writing this "slavery narrative" apart from her counterparts. Butler is able to judge the slavery from the point of view of a truly "free" black woman, as opposed to an enslaved one describing memories.
On a more superficial level, the fact that the novel has been deemed as "science fiction" opens it up to a greater audience. It is safe to say that the majority of people cannot relate to the troubles and scars of the antebellum south, in fact the only living persons who can purely relate are the descendents of slaves. And, even then, it is only on a secondary level, brought on by stories handed through the generations. The novel is seen through the eyes of a woman of the "modern" period of history, and centers itself on her counteraction. This gives the "fish out of water" quality of life. To this, the majority of us can sympathize. Most have been in a situation where things around are unfamiliar, thus forcing an adjustment in behavior. The adjustment that the main character Dana makes, though, is one that is very extreme. Clearly the time spent in the past made Dana much harder than she had been, she says, "If I?d had my knife, I would surely
have killed someone. As it was, I managed to leave scratches and bruises on Rufus, his father, and Edwards who was called over to help." (Butler, 176)
As far as how it works in the actual story of the novel, firstly, and most importantly, it puts a strong, independent, black, 20th century black woman in the antebellum south. This provides a strong contrast in living conditions, as well as psychological patterns with those of the 19th century Dana sees and conveys the world of slavery around her with the background of the 20th century, "our world." This allows the reader to find a real connection with the protagonist, Dana. Dana describes in its gory detail the whippings she took:
He beat me until I swung back and forth by my wrists, half-crazy with pain, unable to find my footing, unable to stand the pressure of hanging, unable to get away from the steady slashing blows?(176)
Each blow is felt ten fold, as a product of different times, relatively peaceful times, Dana, along with the reader, is not accustom to this amount of first hand violence.
Secondly, the discrepancy between times moves the drama in the plot along, in particular, Dana?s relationship with Rufus. Once Dana learns that her purpose is to protect the life of Rufus, in order to continue her own family line, she takes on the maternal role. She teaches him the lessons of discipline and respect for others that have been considered the parents role:
?Hush, Rufe.? I put my hand on his shoulder to quiet him. Apparently I?d hit the nerve I?d aimed at. ?I didn?t say you were trash. I said how?d you like to be called trash. I see you don?t like it. I don?t like being called nigger either.? (61)
This also illustrates how Dana believes she can have a lasting effect on Rufus, to steer him away from the ways of his father. However, she only has a limited period of time to shed her 20th century mentality on him. And, Rufus? change is not gradual relative to Dana, because every time she returns, she finds Rufus years older, and acting that much more like his father.
This poses one of the general themes that go along with time travel in science fiction. Every protagonist has visions of grandeur of making the future a "better" place. So they go back in time and try to influence the past in order to rearrange the future. But, in each case each character fails.
But, the fact that Dana goes backward in time lets her to prepare for the worst. It is evident throughout the book that Dana is quite well educated, and has read a good amount of material written by