Stereotypes are often addressed in Butler’s novels, including Kindred. In Kindred, how does the author, with her various characterizations, reveal the origins of stereotypes? How does she deflate them?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Octavia Butler's Kindred features a protagonist, Dana, who is a black woman in the 1970s in California. Dana gets mysteriously, and without much warning, pulled back into the antebellum South to learn about her family origins.

As she is transported to the South, Dana is assumed to be a slave. She must learn to adjust to life on the plantation despite always having been free in her "real life" in the 1970s. During this time, she of course learns about racism and comes face-to-face with the brutal treatment of her ancestors, including a foremother named Alice. Over the course of the novel, Dana learns that the plantation master, Rufus, a boy she once saved as a child in one of her trips to the past, is also her ancestor. Dana learns the dark truth about sexual politics on the plantation when Rufus tries to rape her near the end of the novel, after repeatedly taking advantage of Alice as well. The antebellum South chapters demonstrate to Dana the extent to which black women were abused under the plantation system.

Meanwhile, in modern-day America, Dana is married to a white man named Kevin. Their relationship is based on love, respect, and mutual interests. While they have freely chosen to be together, Dana's trips to the past complicate the way she views her relationship with Kevin. When Kevin eventually travels with her to the plantation, their vast differences in the antebellum South are thrown into stark relief: Kevin is assumed to be a powerful master. In their modern-day lives, Kevin and Dana see themselves as equals. This contrast in their roles could be said to "deflate" the stereotypes, or at least to show the way race relations and sexual politics have evolved in the 100+ years since abolition.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Octavia Butler’s science fiction novel Kindred, Butler employees many of the stereotypes seen in slave narratives to examine race, gender, and power, as well as the impact slavery still has on American culture.

Many stereotypes are witnessed through the Weylin family. Tom Weylin is the stereotypical master. He is mean and stingy. He wants to have total authority over everyone on the plantation, including his son, Rufus, and his wife, Margaret. The first time we see him, he is pointing his shotgun at Dana, who just rescued his son from drowning. He is the first to beat Dana, terrifying her to the point that she is able to return to her modern-day.

I thought Weylin meant to kill me. I thought I would die on the ground there with a mouth full of dirt and blood and a white man cursing and lecturing as he beat me.

Rufus, despite Dana’s attempts at keeping him from being like his father, is just as cruel and racist. Once Alice dies, he turns to Dana. Because he is her ancestor,and the anchor that brings her back to Antebellum Maryland, she saves his life numerous times, but he remains true to his character and sells slaves that disappoint him, threatens violence, and has Dana beaten for defying him.

All of Butler’s stereotypes are not complete matches, and so she uses her characters to deflate these same stereotypes. Sarah fits the stereotype of the Mammy. She is described as a “stocky middle-aged woman” and is in charge of taking care of feeding and caring for the Weylin Plantation. While she fits the role of the plantation’s mammy, she doesn’t advise or befriend the Weylin’s; in fact, she complains about Miss Margaret and warns Dana about Rufus’ mood swings. She tends to the other slaves, often serving as an advisor and friend to Dana, but does not stay in the Weylin house or make herself a part of their family.

Nigel also doesn't fit perfectly into a stereotype. He is often compared to an Uncle Tom type figure—a slave who is thought to betray their own culture by doing what is told always demonstrating loyalty to their master. He tries to keep the peace and tells the other slaves to do the same. However, Dana realizes that he has covered for her and burned down the Weylin house, concealing Dana’s crimes.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on