In Octavia Butler's historical time-travel novel Kindred, the two characters Rufus Weylin, and his father Tom Weylin, are white slave owners in the antebellum South. The protagonist , Dana, a black woman from the 1970s, is summoned back in time to the Weylin plantation in order to save...
In Octavia Butler's historical time-travel novel Kindred, the two characters Rufus Weylin, and his father Tom Weylin, are white slave owners in the antebellum South. The protagonist, Dana, a black woman from the 1970s, is summoned back in time to the Weylin plantation in order to save Rufus' life multiple times. Rufus will then go on to impregnate Alice, whose child will be the next step in Dana's bloodline.
Dana is called back to save Rufus numerous times over the course of his childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, and as she gets to know him and forms a relationship with him, she tries very hard to impart on him a sense of morality and equity. While there are glimpses of Dana's influence on him, Rufus is steeped in the social mores of his time and goes long periods without seeing or interacting with her. He ends up taking on not just the responsibilities of his father as owner of the plantation and its slaves, but also many of the learned racist customs of slave culture. By the end of the novel, it is clear that Rufus is no improvement over his father Tom at all.
Rufus only manages to treat Dana differently: Dana's influence on Rufus seems to have the most impact on his treatment of her specifically, but his understanding of morality and equity doesn't extend beyond her to the rest of the slaves or to society as a whole. This calls into question whether Rufus' gentler treatment of Dana is a result of his respect for her as his equal, or rather with his self-preservation (since she has saved his life many times) and his fear of her coming from the future (and the unknown power that comes with that). After Dana, the most obvious next candidate for Rufus' respect would be Alice, the woman he apparently loves. Rufus not only raped Alice while she was a free woman, he then bought her so that she would stay with him, used her as his concubine, and then punished her for running away by telling her he sold her children. He doesn't seem able to go outside the narrow standards of his time or his own desires for control, even to do right by the woman he says he loves. He tells Dana he would've wanted to marry Alice if they lived in Dana's time, and that he didn't want to just rape her against her consent, but he couldn't imagine any alternatives (because he couldn't imagine an alternative in which he did not get what he wanted).
Tom gets his hands dirty, but Rufus still lets the violence happen: One seeming difference between Rufus and his father is that Tom is more willing to do the punishing/beating of slaves himself, while Rufus (for the majority of the novel) tends to outsource. But this doesn't make a big difference in the end, because Rufus still knows the effects his choices will have. For example: after Dana attempts to run away, Tom brutally beats her as punishment. After he is done, Rufus brings Dana to Alice and Carrie and demands that they care for her and clean and bandage her wounds carefully. This may seem to indicate that Rufus cares for Dana in some special way, that he is gentler than his father, or that he would've done it differently if he was the one in charge. But in the next chapter, Tom has a heart attack, and when Rufus asks her to save him and she is unable to, he angrily sends her to work in the fields because he says "I guess I just had to make somebody pay." He knows that Dana will get beaten in the fields, but he won't do it himself. Among the slaves, the comparison between Tom and Rufus is known and obvious. Dana says:
People kept warning me about him, dropping hints that he was meaner than he seemed to be . . . I had never feared him as I'd feared his father.
Her continued hope that Rufus is different—despite the times he has lied to her, allowed her to be hurt, and hurt others—is finally fully extinguished at the end of the novel, when he takes the violence into his own hands and attempts to rape her.
Tom is cruel, but he has standards of honesty that Rufus has never had: One of the major sources of conflict between Rufus and Dana is that Rufus agreed to help Dana contact her husband Kevin (who had been stuck in the past for five years), but didn't end up sending the letters she wrote. When Tom hears about Rufus' lies, he actually is the one who ends up contacting Kevin and telling him Dana is there. Rufus explains it this way:
I should have sent the letters. Even Daddy said I should have sent them after I promised you I would. Then he said I was a damn fool for promising . . . But that promise was the only thing that made him send for Kevin. He did it because I had given my word.
The fact that his father cares as much about giving his word to a black person as to a white person is "one of the few things about him" that Rufus says he could respect. But still, we never see Rufus emulate that standard for honesty and fairness that Tom holds to. Tom has always had a greater capacity for violence, but it has always been in alignment with the moral system he adheres to (which happens to include slavery). Rufus has no such central moral system, which makes him "erratic, alternately generous and vicious."
In the novel "Kindred" by Octavia Butler, Dana is a Black woman shifting back and forth in time. She soon realizes that when she is "called" back in time it is to rescue a boy, and later an adult, Rufus Weylin. Rufus is a spoiled boy that seems to try and please Dana because he knows that she will "come" when he is in trouble. As an adult, Rufus is "erratic, alternately generous and vicious." He lies when necessary and tells people what they want to hear. He is constantly getting into trouble, but if Dana is to protect her linage, she must protect Rufus. Her influence does have an affect on him. He is not as mean or ruthless toward the slaves as his father. In fact he is in love with Alice. The problem is the era in which he is raised. Slaves are property. He doesn't understand Dana's objections to how he treats his slaves. He believes he is generous and overlooks many of their faults, but Dana tries to impress upon him it doesn't matter because they are still slaves. She constantly tries to get Rufus to give them their freedom.
On the other hand, Tom Weylin is mean and ruthless. He beats his slaves, he doesn't approve of them getting an education or eating at the same time as he does. At one point Dana and Rufus are eating together and Rufus tells Dana,
"'Daddy'd do some cussin' if he came in here and found us eating together,' he said."
"I put my biscuit down and reined in whatever part of my mind I'd left in 1976. He was right. 'What are you doing then? Trying to make trouble?'"
"No. He won't bother us, Eat."
"The last time someone told me he wouldn't bother me, he walked in and beat the skin off my back."
"His father wasn't the monster he could have been, he wasn't a monster at all. Just an ordinary man who sometimes did the monstrous things his society said were legal and proper." (pg. 134)
Most of the differences between Rufus and his father are generational. If Tom had had a black woman like Dana in his life he probably would have behaved differently.
Rufus also tells Dana that his father was fair, not likable but fair. He said that it was important for Tom to keep his word when he gave it to a white man or a black man. Rufus on the other had lied to Dana more than once.