When Dana has to explain to Alice that she is now a slave in Kindred, there are several role reversals. What are they?

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After Alice and Isaac leave the plantation together, within a few days they are apprehended. Isaac is in legal trouble: he has struck Rufus and, as an enslaved person, is not allowed to travel without permission. Although Alice was free, the fact that she aided an enslaved person is used...

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After Alice and Isaac leave the plantation together, within a few days they are apprehended. Isaac is in legal trouble: he has struck Rufus and, as an enslaved person, is not allowed to travel without permission. Although Alice was free, the fact that she aided an enslaved person is used as a justification to revoke her freedom. Rufus purchases Alice so that he can keep her close to him and have sexual intercourse with her whenever he desires. Because she is considered his property, this type of sexual abuse is not criminal in the legal system of that time.

When Alice is taken to the Weylin house, she is unconscious. In the pursuit and capture, she was bitten by dogs and then whipped. Rufus has appointed Dana to care for Alice, so she is present when Alice wakes up with no memory of what happened. One of the role reversals is that Dana becomes the more the cautious of the two. Having brought her twentieth-century attitudes back into time with her, Dana had often asked too many questions and spoken too loudly, which Sarah reminded her could be dangerous if others overheard. Dana had disrespected her peers, thinking their fear meant they were not brave. When Alice regains consciousness, she loudly demands to know what happened, and Dana must quiet her down so she will not be overheard and punished further.

On her first time travels, Dana arrived with no preparation for life under slavery. She had to figure out how she could survive as an enslaved person and, hopefully, retain her dignity in accord with her modern identity. For the Weylins, she works inside the house but, with Sarah as administrator, she has some flexibility in her duties. Alice has been free before, so Dana had previously felt a common bond with her. Now that Rufus has purchased her, Alice must learn to live as enslaved person. Alice asks, “What’s it like to be a slave?” Dana is placed in the unusual position of having to explain to her how to do so.

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There are two main role reversals in this scene of the novel. Dana, as a modern black woman, has to inform her ancestor that she is no longer free. This is the first main role reversal. Here the characters question conceptions of freedom and enslavement. The scene centers around the idea of freedom and how someone who is free has to explain the concept of enslavement to a recently enslaved woman. The familial linkage is the second part of the role reversal in this same situation. A great-great-granddaughter has to educate her great-great-grandmother. As slaves were not allowed to read, and education was kept from African Americans at the time, it was extremely rare for an African American woman to be literate. Dana had access to education in modern California, while her great-great-grandmother is illiterate. Dana is able to bring this education back with her in her time travels. It is also unusual for a great-great-granddaughter to educate her great-great-grandmother. It is usually the reverse, with our elders teaching us rather than us teaching them as Dana teaches Alice in Kindred.

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