Does Dana die in the end? How does she lose her arm?
Octavia E. Butler’s novel Kindred blends science fiction and historical fiction, as the narrative follows Dana’s time travels from 1976 Los Angeles to 1815 Maryland. The prologue reveals that Dana’s arm has been amputated, but the details of what happened are not revealed until the end of the story. Dana and her husband, Kevin, both hide the truth about the accident from hospital staff because they know they wouldn’t be believed anyway.
In Dana’s first trip back in time, the African American protagonist appears at a river to find a boy drowning. She saves the white child, Rufus, before being transported back to her own time. In subsequent time travels, Dana always appears at a moment when Rufus is in danger, such as after setting his bedroom drapes on fire, when he has broken his leg, and during a beating from Isaac (the husband of a slave he has attempted to rape). Thus, Rufus needing help seems to be the catalyst that propels Dana, and then Kevin too, through time.
Rufus is also the reason Dana loses her arm. In her final time travel, Rufus attempts to rape Dana, wanting her to stay with him as his concubine. Dana succeeds in fatally stabbing Rufus, and, as he’s dying, she is transported back to her own time. However, she finds herself in gut-wrenching pain with her arm joined to a wall at the spot where Rufus had been holding her.
The novel ends with Dana and Kevin relieved that Rufus’s death means they will no longer time travel and may return to their normal lives.
Dana does not die in the end. She survives to tell the story of her trips through time. She loses her arm because of the weird/specific way in which she time travels. She reappears in her contemporary world with her arm stuck through a wall. They have to amputate it because it is crushed (and, I suspect, mixed in with the drywall and paint of the wall itself).
It is the price she pays for "reaching out" to Rufus.