The book is told from the first-person point of view of the heroine, Dana. Consequently, readers are exposed firsthand to Dana’s reactions to being transported to the antebellum South; to Dana’s evaluations of the nature of her white ancestor, Rufus; to her feelings about the initial naïveté of her husband concerning the oppression of black people and American Indians in the nineteenth century; and to her growing understanding of the perils and strengths of black people in general and slaves in particular.
Since the novel is told from Dana’s point of view, readers can empathize with her reactions both to her extraordinary experiences and to the brutality of the slavery era. One can readily identify with Dana’s feelings of powerlessness, since she must return to the antebellum South whenever Rufus’s life is endangered. Dana’s resultant inability to live normally in the present—her inability to drive a car, for example—becomes a vivid alteration in her life. Similarly, Dana’s first-person narration makes vivid for readers the cruelty and hardships black people faced in the antebellum South. Seeing slaves beaten, for example, makes Dana (and readers) aware that the beatings and abuse slaves suffered were much more shocking in reality than they seem through presentations on television and in films. Thus, Butler’s use of Dana as narrator enlivens the book’s subject matter.
Other characters are also brought vividly to life. Rufus develops from a boy who bonds with Dana into a complete racist who tries to rape her. Dana’s desire to protect Rufus from such a decline may disappoint readers, as he becomes the racist his society molds him to be. Another character whose development is enlivened by Dana’s reactions is Kevin. For example, Kevin’s naïve assumption that the nineteenth century would be a great time in which to live seems especially ridiculous in the light of Dana’s observations about the oppression of slaves and Indians. The growth in Kevin’s character is shown in a later conversation with Dana in which he tells her of his risking his safety to help slaves escape after he is separated from Dana and is left behind in the past. Butler uses Dana’s conversations and experiences with other characters to show the dynamic nature of those characters.
Butler’s use of Dana as the first-person narrator, therefore, does not create a myopic narrative style that makes everyone but the narrator seem static and flawed. Instead, Dana’s narration highlights the development and complexity both of Dana and of Kindred’s other characters.