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.