What are the similarities and differences between Alice and Dana in Kindred?

Expert Answers

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

In Octavia Butler's historical time-travel novel Kindred, the protagonist , Dana, is repeatedly summoned back in time to ensure the continuation of her bloodline. This rests on Rufus Weylin, a white slave-owner, impregnating Alice Greenwood, who was born free, was a friend of Rufus as a child, and...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

In Octavia Butler's historical time-travel novel Kindred, the protagonist, Dana, is repeatedly summoned back in time to ensure the continuation of her bloodline. This rests on Rufus Weylin, a white slave-owner, impregnating Alice Greenwood, who was born free, was a friend of Rufus as a child, and was later bought by him to be his slave.

Here are some similarities between Alice and Dana:

  • Both women are physically similar: "tall and slender and dark," and they resemble each other as family would, even though they are far removed from each other. This similarity in appearance (and in personality—both women are strong-willed and stubborn) leads Rufus to consider them to be two halves of the same woman. Alice explains to Dana, "He likes me in bed, and you out of bed, and you and I look alike if you can believe what people say" (229). Rufus is physically (and perhaps romantically) attracted to Alice, while he relies on Dana to take care of him and to stimulate and support him intellectually.
  • Alice and Dana are both women who were once free who are now unwillingly controlled by Rufus. Alice, who was born free, was later bought by Rufus so that he could keep her and "love" her in his own morally confused way. Dana remarks that "I was beginning to realize that he loved the woman—to her misfortune. There was no shame in raping a black woman, but there could be shame in loving one" (124). Alice is forced to submit herself to Rufus sexually and bear his children multiple times, even though she is not interested in him that way and in fact very truly fears him. Dana, on the other hand, came of age in the time after the Civil Rights Movement and yet is repeatedly summoned back in time (against her will) to save Rufus from deadly situations. In this past, she cannot be seen as the free black woman of the 1970s that she is; she is forced to masquerade as a slave (first Kevin's, then Rufus's) in order to get by, and she gets beaten, demeaned, and nearly raped as a result. After Alice's baby Hagar is born (the one who would continue Dana's bloodline), Dana expresses her feelings this way: "I felt almost free, half-free if such a thing was possible, half-way home" (234).

Here are some differences between Alice and Dana:

  • The two women come from completely different social, racial, and historical contexts. Alice, even growing up as a free black person, knew that her place in society was tenuous and dependent entirely upon the unpredictable whims of the white people around her. As a child, Alice watched her father be brutally beaten and her mother knocked unconscious by a patrol group of white men outside her home. In contrast, Dana, who is coming from the 1970s and is married to a white man, has a very different context of race relations and no direct experience with the brutality of slavery. Because of this difference, Alice holds a good deal of contempt for Dana. After realizing that her husband, Isaac, was mutilated and sold away, she yells at Dana, "Docter-n***** . . . Think you know so much. Reading-n*****. White-n*****! Why didn't you know enough to let me die?" (160) The two women's starkly different pasts keep them from ever fully understanding vital aspects of each other, especially their differing views on slavery and hope:
  • Dana holds onto the belief that being alive means having a chance at freedom, while Alice mostly holds her mother's own bitter belief that death is better than slavery. After Alice explains to Dana that her mother said she'd rather be dead than be a slave, Dana says, "Better to stay alive . . . at least while there's a chance to get free" (158). She wonders if she's a hypocrite for saying that to someone like Alice and advising her to live with her pain while she herself knows that she will (hopefully) eventually return to a time without slavery. Alice ends up attempting to run away and escape slavery, but when she is caught, Rufus punishes her by saying that he sold her children away (which is a lie). As a result, Alice loses the small amount of hope she had, and she fulfills her mother's belief by killing herself.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Octavia Butler's Kindred tells the story of Edana (Dana) Franklin, a modern woman who is drawn back through time to live during the time of slavery in the United States. During her travels, Dana meets Alice Greenwood, her great-great-great-grandmother. Both women are around the same age when they meet.

Dana and Alice are so similar that Rufus Weylin, who is Dana's great-great-great-grandfather and a slave owner, thinks of them as two halves of one whole. They bond over their mutual imprisonment and protect one another whenever they can.

Dana has lived not in the time of slavery but rather during a time of freedom well after abolition. She knows what's possible and fights desperately for her life and Alice's. Alice, conversely, has lived her whole life around slavery. She's technically a free woman in the time of the novel, but Rufus treats her like she isn't. He rapes and beats her (at one point within an inch of her life).

Alice is desperate to escape Rufus and determines that the only way to be truly free of him is to end her life. Dana tries to talk her out of this plan, insisting that life is worth fighting for. Alice ultimately succeeds in taking her own life. Dana travels back to the present one final time, losing an arm but regaining her freedom.

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

The major difference between the two women is that Dana is coming from a totally different perspective than Alice. Dana is a modern woman who has only read about slavery, while Alice, although a free woman at the beginning, has grown up in a society that condones slavery. Alice feels death is better than slavery, but Dana disagrees with her. She thinks survival is the better option as long as there is a chance to escape to freedom. Again, I think this difference lies in the pasts of the two women. Dana knows what real freedom is, while Alice knows as a black woman, a white man or woman can do anything to her he wishes. As Rufus abuses Alice more and more, she gives up, seeing no hope for her future. Dana is willing to do more to regain her freedom, while Alice feels death is her only choice, especially after her children are taken away.

Both women are alike in several ways. They are both strong characters who desire freedom in the worst way. Dana and Alice are both alienated from the other slaves because of their relationship with Rufus and his family. They are drawn to each other, and Rufus thinks they are two halves of the same woman because they are so much alike. Their relationship is much like that of sisters who fight one moment and hug the next. There is an unexplainable connection between them that is more than being family.

For more on these two characters, go to the sites below.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team