Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Kindred traces the emotional and physical dilemmas Dana Franklin faces as a twentieth century African American woman periodically transported back to the antebellum South. In portraying the experiences of a 1976 woman who must readjust to life during the slavery era, Butler dramatizes important themes: the continuing relevance of the past to the present; the horrors of slavery, which have lost their reality for many, including Dana and her white husband, Kevin; and the ways in which the development of racist attitudes and behavior are a product of societal conditioning.
Dana’s time-travel experiences begin, ironically, in 1976, the year of the American Bicentennial, a celebration of American freedom and independence. Dana’s fantastic experiences begin on an ordinary day: While Dana and Kevin are unpacking cartons in their new home in Los Angeles, she is overcome by nausea and dizziness. She then finds herself at a riverbank at which she hears the cries of a drowning white child. After reviving him by giving him artificial respiration, she is attacked by the boy’s mother, who thinks she has tried to kill him. As a man points a gun at Dana, she once again feels sick and faints. Dana immediately finds herself back at home in Los Angeles, yet she is covered with the mud of the riverbank. This episode contains elements that recur when Dana is transported to the past and then back to the present: She is sent back to the past when the life of Rufus Weylin, the son of a slave owner, is in danger, and she is transported back to the present when her own life is in danger.
As a result of her second trip to the past, Dana learns more about the significance of the past to her own life. She learns that Rufus is an ancestor of hers who must live long enough to father a child named Hagar with a slave named Alice. Without the birth of Hagar, who initiates Dana’s family line, Dana will not exist. Dana must, therefore, ensure the survival of Rufus, who has a tendency to find himself in life-threatening situations, in order to ensure her own existence. In addition, Dana takes an emotional interest in Rufus: From her second meeting with him, she wants to try to prevent him from accepting and practicing the racism that is a part both of his family and of the antebellum South. Thus, Dana feels that she...
(The entire section is 949 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Dana and Kevin are moving into their new home in suburban Los Angeles in 1976 when Dana suddenly disappears for a few seconds. She experiences a few hours in an unidentified time and place, where she saves a small boy from drowning, only to have the boy’s father aim a gun at her. She feels disoriented and then finds herself back in her apartment, wet and muddy. Kevin has seen her vanish and reappear across the room, and yet he finds it hard to believe that she has traveled elsewhere.
A second incident allows Dana to better understand what is happening to her. Once again, she vanishes from her California home and finds herself rescuing the same boy, now a few years older and this time in danger from a fire. She learns that she is in Maryland and it is 1815, so the color of her skin marks her as a slave, since she has no free papers. Dana also realizes that the boy, Rufus, and his free black neighbor, Alice, are her ancestors, as she has read their names in her family bible. As night falls, Dana seeks refuge at Alice’s house, only to witness the brutal beating of a black slave man visiting his free black wife, Alice’s mother, without permission. The man’s white assailants are Patrollers, forebears of the Ku Klux Klan, and one of them attacks Dana, ultimately sending her back to twentieth century Los Angeles.
Dana and Kevin make preparations after the first two voyages, having determined that Rufus somehow calls Dana to him whenever his life is in danger and that Dana returns home when she feels grave danger to herself. The next time Dana feels herself losing consciousness, Kevin holds onto her and is thus transported with her to Maryland. The year is 1819, and Rufus has become a difficult twelve-year-old who enjoys Dana’s company but shows streaks of his emotionally distant father. Dana must pretend to be Kevin’s slave, and she is astonished by how easily both manage their roles. They remain for about two months, until Rufus’s father, Tom Weylin, catches Dana teaching two slave children to read and attacks her. Her life in danger, Dana returns to Los Angeles.
Dana finds herself alone, her white husband trapped in the past in his role as slave owner. Eight days later in 1976, and five years later in antebellum Maryland, Dana returns...
(The entire section is 931 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Kindred is a historical novel which explores slavery in the nineteenth century United States. The novel is classed as fantasy because of its use of time travel, which allows the protagonist to be transported by unspecific means between two centuries.
Dana, a twentieth century California writer who works at menial jobs assigned by a temporary employment agency, is married to Kevin, a white man. In her first time-travel experience Dana is unwittingly transported in time and space to a plantation in nineteenth century Maryland, arriving just in time to save the life of Rufus, the son of the plantation owner. She is sent back there five more times when Rufus’s life is endangered. She returns to her own time and place when her life in the nineteenth century is threatened. During Dana’s journeys into the past, Rufus grows from a young child to adulthood; however, elapsed time in Dana’s twentieth century life ranges only from a few seconds to eight days.
Dana learns, through genealogical research, that Rufus is her ancestor, and unless she assures his survival to father the child who will be known as Hagar, Dana herself will never be born. The plot is driven by Dana’s urgent need to protect the life of Rufus, a self-indulgent, accident-prone child and eventually an impulsively cruel adult. Dana also hopes to influence his character and to mitigate the evils of slavery. The carefully researched details of plantation life in the slaveholding South are graphically portrayed. As Dana notes, while being forced to watch the master whipping a slave, the sensory details of this brutality come alive in ways that cannot be felt...
(The entire section is 675 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Prologue, The River, and The Fire: Summary and Analysis
Edana (called Dana throughout the novel): A 26-year-old African American woman, the first-person narrator of the novel.
Kevin Franklin: The narrator’s husband, who is later revealed to be Caucasian and 15 years older than Dana.
Rufus Weylin: A red-headed boy who lives in the world that Dana disappears to, who Dana will later realize is her ancestor.
Alice: A free black who lives on the edge of the Weylin property, also Dana’s ancestor.
“I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm,” the narrator, Dana, states to open the novel’s prologue. She goes on to explain that she does not understand how her arm...
(The entire section is 1966 words.)
The Fall: Summary and Analysis
Tom Weylin: The father of Rufus, a white slave-owner.
Luke: A black slave; he is the overseer for Tom Weylin’s field slaves.
Nigel: A slave boy belonging to the Weylins, who is the same age as Rufus.
Sarah: A slave woman, the main cook for the Weylin household.
Carrie: A mute slave in the Weylin’s household, Sarah’s daughter.
Margaret Weylin: Rufus’ mother and Tom Weylin’s wife.
Dana’s narrative flashes back to the beginning of her relationship with Kevin. They meet while Dana is working for a temp service, giving her time to work on her novel and short stories during the night....
(The entire section is 2364 words.)
The Fight: Summary and Analysis
Isaac Jackson: Alice Greenwood’s husband, a slave belonging to a neighbor of the Weylins.
Liza: a slave belonging to Tom Weylin, who betrays Dana.
Dana’s narrative flashes back to the moment that she and Kevin decided to get married. Dana is concerned that Kevin’s sister—his only surviving family—will not accept him marrying a black woman. Although Kevin initially believes that his sister will accept Dana, the sister ends up telling him that she won’t allow either of them in her house, much to Kevin’s surprise and hurt. Dana’s family—the aunt and uncle who raised her—also refuse to accept her marriage to a white man. Her...
(The entire section is 2754 words.)
The Storm: Summary and Analysis
Joe: The son of Rufus Weylin and Alice Greenwood
Evan Fowler: A new white overseer who works for Tom Weylin
Kevin and Dana return home. While Dana has been away for two months, Kevin has been gone for five years, and he is somewhat shocked at returning to the present. He tells Dana little about what he had done during those five years: he traveled through the cities of the Northeast; he supported himself as a teacher; he had helped slaves escape when he could; he was almost killed by a mob of whites who crushed a slave rebellion. Once, he had seen a pregnant slave woman beaten until the baby fell out of her body. Dana compares the sadistic...
(The entire section is 1286 words.)
The Rope: Summary and Analysis
Dana is home with Kevin for two weeks before she is transported back to Rufus. During the time she is with Kevin, they discuss their time in the South, and Kevin finally manages to ask Dana if Rufus had ever raped her. Dana explains to Kevin that Rufus never approached her sexually, that was the one thing she would never allow him to do. When Kevin reminds her that her own ancestors had made the opposite choice in order to survive, she still believes that she does not have their endurance.
Dana is transported back to Rufus on the Fourth of July. When she arrives, she find Rufus in the barn with the body of a woman hanging from the rafters. It is Alice. She has hung herself. Although Rufus...
(The entire section is 1305 words.)