In Kindred, Dana loses her left arm as she emerges for the last time in the novel from the past. Why is this significant?

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The author never explains to readers why the loss of her arm is significant. That is left up to individual readers, and an argument could certainly be made that the arm being lost at the end of book is significant for no other reason than explaining how she managed to...

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The author never explains to readers why the loss of her arm is significant. That is left up to individual readers, and an argument could certainly be made that the arm being lost at the end of book is significant for no other reason than explaining how she managed to lose the arm on her "last trip home" as the beginning of the novel states. At that point in the story, readers do not know anything about the upcoming time travels, so we are completely dumbfounded by the description that her arm is somehow crushed or existing within a wall.

"That was when I realized your arm wasn't just stuck, but that, somehow, it had been crushed right into the wall."

"Not exactly crushed."

You could also argue that the lost arm is symbolically important, and you could argue that Dana has left an actual piece of herself in the past. She time traveled back and forth between two time periods. With the loss of her arm, it could be said that she now exists in both time periods at the same time. This could be seen as a positive thing because her present is forever impacted by her past. There is always a reminder about where she has been and came from as well as a larger view of how far race relations have come.

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Dana's lost arm symbolizes that a literal piece of herself has been left behind, and it bears the physical reminder of the consequences of the Antebellum South. She, like many of the other descendants of the slavery era of the Antebellum South bear the burden and are presently dealing with the traumatic history. Dana is reminded that to live through slavery is to lose a part of yourself that time will not heal. It is important to know how she lost her arm. The character Rufus, a young plantation owner, is in control of Dana's destiny throughout the novel. In his vulnerability, after losing his dad and a woman he enslaved, he summons Dana one last time out of fear of loneliness. During this time, he becomes frustrated with Dana for refusing his advances and forces himself upon her. Dana comes to the ultimate decision that Rufus has no redemptive qualities and nothing could be done to save him.
In self defense, Dana stabs Rufus, killing him, and she is left injured in an attic before being transported back to present time. During the time travel her injured arm is left behind. It is unclear why her arm was left as it was not amputated before she time traveled. However, the author Octavia Butler alludes to being unable to write Dana as coming back whole.

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This is an excellent question. What is interesting about how Dana returns is the way that so little comment is made about it by the narrator. It is as if we are left to work out the meaning of Dana's amputation for ourselves and try and establish what Octavia Butler was trying to communicate through it. Interestingly, though, in an interview with the author, Octavia Butler elaborates on the silence left in the novel concerning Dana's amputation as she returns back to the present for the last time, leaving her experiences of slavery in the past. Note what she said to explain the amputation:

I couldn't really let her come all the way back. I couldn't let her return to what she was, I couldn't let her come back whole and that, I think, really symbolises her not coming back whole. Antebellum slavery didn't leave people quite whole.

Thus it is that Dana's amputation therefore symbolises the way in which slavery broke people, and left them fragmented as individuals, in the same way that Dana finds herself literally fragmented, as she loses her arm. Butler seems to suggest that Dana is not just a spectator. As a participant and somebody who has suffered the horrors of slavery herself, she is not allowed to return to the safe present and left to imagine that her experiences were just a dream. Her lack of an arm will act as a constant reminder of what she and her ancestors suffered, symbolising the profound inhumanity of slavery.

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