The Characters (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
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....
(The entire section is 434 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Edana (Dana) Franklin
Edana (Dana) Franklin, the protagonist and narrator. A newly published author, Dana is a twenty-six-year-old black woman who has been married to Kevin Franklin, also an author, for four years. Dana is a modern American woman who is suddenly transported to the antebellum South. Her knowledge of medical practices allows her to help Rufus and some of the slaves.
Kevin Franklin, Dana’s husband. Kevin, a white man, and Dana have a successful and mutually satisfying interracial marriage. When Kevin is transported to the past with Dana, he must pose as her master because no other relationship would be tolerated. This is as problematic for Kevin as it is for Dana.
Rufus Weylin, Dana’s great-great-great-grandfather, a white plantation owner in antebellum Maryland. Rufus, by means Dana never discovers, summons Dana from the present to aid him in the past whenever his life is endangered. Rufus and Dana’s relationship is based on mutual need. Rufus requires Dana’s assistance in order to stay alive, and Dana must safeguard Rufus’ life long enough for him to sire Dana’s great-great-grandmother. Their relationship is brutally unequal, however, as Rufus is a white male slaveowner and Dana is a young black woman whom he enslaves. He resists Dana’s efforts to rid him of his racism.
(The entire section is 562 words.)
Kindred has two major characters, Edana (Dana) Franklin and Rufus Weylin, Dana's great-great-grandfather. Dana is a mid-twenties African-American woman who lives with her Caucasian husband Kevin Franklin in 1970s Los Angeles. She is a writer at the beginning of a career that has not yet been blessed with much success, but Dana works at jobs that do not tax her creative energies so that she can write after work. She, as well as her husband, are dedicated to their art. We never learn Dana's maiden surname. We learn she is ordinary in physical appearance, although by novel's end she is scarred from the slave-master's flogging, and she has lost an arm in the final time-travel transit from past to present. She is very intelligent, and able to think under the pressure of finding herself time-traveled into a past that is also mortally threatening to her. Butler's women protagonists always think well under pressure. We learn virtually nothing about Dana's childhood or life before the fictional present of the novel.
Rufus Weylin's whole life in the early nineteenth century is encompassed in the time of the one year of 1976 that Dana has time-travel contact with him. The reader is shown a red-haired male child who is spoiled in spite of having a severe father. In the company of Dana who must keep Rufus alive to insure her own existence, because Rufus is her great-great grandfather, Rufus is amiable and petulant as a child, but becomes gradually more depraved as he...
(The entire section is 325 words.)
An aspiring African-American writer, Dana Franklin is shocked when she is suddenly transported back into the past to save the life of her white ancestor, Rufus Weylin. Nothing in her life has prepared her for experiencing the South in the early nineteenth century. She witnesses the whipping of Alice Greenwood's father on her second visit, and the vivid sounds and smells make her realize that "I was probably less prepared for the reality [of violence] than the child crying not far from me."
As she later tells Kevin, "the more I think about it, the harder it is for me to believe I could survive even a few more trips to a place like that." She considers herself—a black woman—"the worst possible guardian" for Rufus, for "I would have all I could do to look after myself." She does not shrink from the task, however, because she knows her family's existence depends on her success. In addition, she thinks "I would … maybe plant a few ideas in [Rufus'] mind that would help both me and the people who would be his slaves in the years to come."
As her visits to the past become longer and more involved, Dana enjoys a privileged status in the Weylin household. She is disturbed by how easily she seems to acclimate to her new role, but realizes that this is because most of the time she can act as an observer. As time goes on, however, she is drawn more deeply into the pain of slavery.
When Rufus convinces Dana to persuade Alice to sleep with...
(The entire section is 387 words.)
Kevin is Dana's husband. He is an "unusual-looking white man, his face young, almost unlined, but his hair completely gray and his eyes so pale as to be almost colorless." His pale eyes make him "seem distant and angry whether he was or not," but he has a winning grin that "completely destroyed the effect of his eyes."
When Dana meets him at the temp agency, she enjoys his sense of humor, and recognizes that this fellow writer "was like me—a kindred spirit crazy enough to keep on trying." After four months together Kevin proposes, and the two marry despite the objections of their families.
Kevin is a kind and thoughtful husband. After Dana's second trip into the past, although he has little understanding of what has happened to her, he prepares a survival kit and ties it to her waist while she is sleeping. When she begins to disappear a third time, he embraces her and is pulled back into the past as well. Although she knows she will be safer with him there, Dana fears what it will do to his mind: "I didn't want this place to touch him except through me."
There are signs that perhaps her fears are valid. Dana is upset by how easily they both seem to adjust to their new roles as slave and master, and how Kevin sometimes finds the idea of living in the past interesting. Kevin is not really suited to the past, as Sarah observes: "He'd get in trouble every now and then 'cause he couldn't tell the difference 'tween black and white."...
(The entire section is 334 words.)
Dana has already figured out that Alice Greenwood is her ancestor when she meets the child on her second trip to the past. Rufus considers Alice his friend, and notes that she is a free black, "born free like her mother." Alice obviously knows the pains of slavery, however, for her father is a slave on the Weylin plantation who is brutally whipped when he is discovered visiting his wife without a pass.
Dana does not meet her ancestor again until her fourth visit, when Isaac almost kills Rufus. Although Alice is furious over Rufus' attempt to rape her, she persuades Isaac not to kill him, knowing it would mean Isaac's death if he were captured. Instead she tries to escape with him.
Alice and Isaac are captured, however, and the penalty for helping him to escape is a beating, after which she is sold into slavery. Rufus buys her, paying twice the market price. Dana nurses her back to health and tells Alice the truth about what happened when she cannot remember it.
Alice and Dana become close friends. The two women look alike, and Rufus considers them two halves of one woman. Alice's "erratic" relationship with Dana is sister-like: "sometimes needing my friendship, trusting me with her dangerous longings for freedom … ; and sometimes hating me, blaming me for her trouble."
As the years pass, Alice becomes hard and bitter. She loses two of her first three children to illness, and the other slaves shun her because of her...
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Dana finds Rufus a complex and contrary figure. He is an oddly appealing child, accepting of Dana and adventurous enough to help her escape on her second visit. Even as a boy, Rufus shows signs of a cold, possessive temper. When Margaret interrupts Dana, he berates her, just as his father Tom does: "His mouth was drawn into a thin straight line and his eyes were coldly hostile." As an adult, he tends to drink too much and will "pick a fight just out of meanness."
Rufus loves his childhood friend Alice, but it is a "destructive single-minded love" that is more about power than love. After she marries Isaac, Rufus attempts to rape her—an act that ironically leads to his purchase of Alice and the sale of her husband. He is "erratic, alternately generous and vicious," but Dana does not quite believe Sarah's warning that Rufus "says what will make you feel good—not what's true"; that is, until she discovers he has lied about sending her letters to Kevin. "I kept thinking I knew him, and he kept proving to me that I didn't."
Somehow Dana is able to forgive him for his possessiveness and cruelty. She recognizes that his behavior comes from pain, anger, or fear. His attempt to replace Alice with Dana, however, is the last straw for her. "I could accept him as my ancestor, my younger brother, my friend, but not as my master, and not as my lover."
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Initially, Dana finds Tom Weylin a brutal and fearsome figure. He beats his son, Rufus; moreover, when his son breaks his leg his only concern seems to be what it will cost him. He shows no hesitation in whipping slaves and has no qualms about separating slave families.
Tom sometimes demonstrates a sense of fairness and gratitude. He allows Dana to choose whether to stay on the plantation or search for Kevin after her fourth arrival. He gives Dana a whipping after she makes an escape attempt, but "he didn't hurt you nearly as much as he's hurt others," Rufus tells her. After he discovers that Rufus broke his promise to let Kevin know of Dana's arrival, he sends word himself.
"Daddy's the only man I know," says Rufus, "who cares as much about giving his word to a black as to a white." As Dana comes to understand, Tom Weylin "wasn't a monster at all. Just an ordinary man who sometimes did the monstrous things his society said were legal and proper."
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A mute slave, Carrie is a good friend to Dana. Most people believe that she is mentally impaired because of her handicap, but she is not. Carrie comforts Dana after Tom's death and explains that the slaves are better off under Rufus' ownership; if Rufus were dead, the slaves would be separated from their friends and families. She also comforts Dana when she is derided as being more white than black. Dana appreciates and values her friendship.
Jake Edwards is one of the overseers hired to manage the field hands. "It was amazing how much misery the man could cause doing the same job Luke had managed to do without hurting anybody," Dana observes. He forces Dana to do laundry by threatening her with a whipping.
Evan Fowler is the second overseer Dana encounters on the Weylin plantation. At first she believes that he is harmless, but his brutality proves that he is a cruel and unforgiving man.
See Dana Franklin
See Alice Greenwood
Isaac Jackson is Alice's husband. When he discovers Rufus trying to rape his wife, he beats him, which brings Dana into the past for the fourth time. After the incident, he and Alice attempt to escape. They are captured, however, and Isaac is sold after being beaten and mutilated.
Sam James is...
(The entire section is 1010 words.)