Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
In Kindred, a young black woman is mysteriously transported to the antebellum American South, where she must adapt to a society in which the vast majority of black people are slaves and where she too confronts enslavement. In order to survive, she must acquire basic skills that, as a modern woman, she has never learned, including cooking on an open hearth, sewing, and doctoring without the benefit of modern medicines or antisepsis. She must also determine whether she has the strength of character required for survival in a world that is rough and crude, in which black people are believed to be subhuman and are kept as chattel, and where physical and psychological punishments are daily tribulations.
On an elemental level, Kindred questions whether a modern person is equal to the challenge of living in a preindustrial world and whether modernization has resulted in fundamental losses of resiliency and strength. Because Dana is a black woman, there are racial dimensions to her struggle. Through Dana, Butler explores the nature of slavery and slave-master relations, the special strengths or weaknesses of character that allow slaves to survive as chattel, and the relationships between white men and black women both in the present (1976) and in the past.
The reader is first introduced to Dana in her hospital room after she has returned, injured and mutilated both psychologically and physically, from her final voyage to the past. In...
(The entire section is 511 words.)
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Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
As is the case in many of Butler’s novels, Kindred’s protagonist is an able black woman. Yet Dana, like others among Butler’s characters, is not designed exclusively to carry a feminist or antiracist message. Instead, Kindred is a story of the universal striving of human beings to transcend their base humanity in the face of adversity. Using a familiar science fiction technique in which a character develops strategies for survival in an alien environment—in this case, the slave-holding South—Butler chronicles Dana’s developing inner strengths. In the process, she examines the nature of power and the dynamics of racial and sexual relations. Butler’s characters are multidimensional, and no group, either racial or sexual, has a monopoly on strength, courage, or goodness. Her worlds are multiracial, sometimes multispecies, and, at least among some human individuals and in her alien worlds, tolerant of gender differences.
Through her several successful novels, including those of the “Patternist” series—Patternmaster (1978), Mind of My Mind (1977), Survivor (1978), Wild Seed (1980)—and others, such as her trilogy Xenogenesis (1987, 1988, 1989) and Kindred, her only book to be published in the general market, Butler has developed an extensive readership as well as a cult following among black women. In a genre that traditionally has been nearly exclusively populated by...
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Prologue, The River, and The Fire: Questions and Answers
1. Where do Kevin and Dana live?
2. What day do all of Dana’s “trouble” start?
3. How does Dana realize that Rufus is her ancestor?
4. What does Dana see when she tries to find the Greenwood house in the middle of the night?
5. Who are the men who attack the Greenwood home?
1. Kevin and Dana live in the town of Altadena, just outside of Los Angeles.
2. Dana’s troubles start on her 26th birthday, June 9, 1976.
3. When Rufus tells her that his last name is Weylin, she recognizes his name from the family Bible that had been handed down to her.
4. Dana sees a troop of...
(The entire section is 177 words.)
The Fall: Questions and Answers
1.Where do Kevin and Dana originally meet?
2. What has happened to Rufus when Dana is called back in this chapter?
3. Who is Carrie?
4. Why does Margaret Weylin dislike Dana?
5. Why does Tom Weylin whip Dana?
1. Kevin and Dana originally meet while they are both working at an auto parts warehouse.
2. Rufus has broken his leg.
3. Carrie is a mute slave belonging to the Weylins. She is Sarah’s daughter.
4. Margaret Weylin dislikes Dana because Dana seems to be more educated than Margaret, because Rufus has an emotional attachment to her, and because she is jealous of her...
(The entire section is 118 words.)
The Fight: Questions and Answers
1. Who is Isaac Jackson?
2. Why do Alice and Isaac run away?
3. Why is Margaret Weylin no longer living at the Weylin house?
4. What motivates Dana to try to escape?
5. How do Tom Weylin and Rufus learn that Dana has escaped?
1. Isaac Jackson is a slave belonging to one of the Weylins’ neighbors; he is Alice’s husband.
2. Isaac and Alice run away because Isaac has beaten Rufus for trying to rape Alice, and because he has attacked a white man, his life is in danger.
3. Margaret Weylin went crazy after her twin babies died in infancy; she went to live with her sister in Baltimore, who...
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The Storm: Questions and Answers
1. How does Tom Weylin die?
2. What does Rufus do to punish Dana for his father’s death?
3. How many children has Alice had with Rufus?
4. What does Rufus threaten to do if Dana disobeys him?
5. Why does Rufus sell Sam?
1. Tom Weylin dies of a heart attack.
2. Rufus blames Dana for his father’s death, and he sends her to work in the cornfields as a punishment.
3. Rufus and Alice have had three children together; Hagar will be their fourth child.
4. Rufus threatens to send Dana back into the fields if she disobeys him.
5. Rufus sells Sam because he shows an...
(The entire section is 110 words.)
The Rope and Epilogue: Questions and Answers
1. What day in the present is Dana called back to the past for the last time?
2. Why does Alice kill herself?
3. What does Rufus want Dana to do after he loses Alice?
4. How does Rufus die?
5. When Kevin and Dana visit Maryland during the present, they find historical newspapers discussing Rufus Weylin’s death. What do the newspapers say about his death?
1. Dana is called back on The Fourth of July, 1976, which is the bicentennial of the United States.
2. Alice kills herself because her attempt to run away from Rufus failed, and because she believes that Rufus sold her children to punish her for...
(The entire section is 144 words.)
Ideas for Group Discussions
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Beal, Frances M. “Black Women and the Science Fiction Genre: Interview with Octavia Butler.” The Black Scholar: Journal of Black Studies and Research 17 (March-April, 1986): 14-18. In this interview, Butler discusses Kindred and the difficulty she had in publishing it. It was not considered science fiction, yet it did not fit readily into any other category. Butler discusses her intentions in writing Kindred and talks about her childhood experiences.
Butler, Octavia. “Black Women and the Science Fiction Genre: Interview with Octavia Butler.” Interview by Frances M. Beal. Black Scholar 17...
(The entire section is 503 words.)