Why is it so hard for Dana to kill Rufus in Kindred? (Other than the “logical” answer that she needs Hagar to be born and may need him alive to return to the 1970s.) What might the author’s overall message be about human beings, life, enslavement, etc.?

One reason it is so hard for Dana to kill Rufus is because she recalls the young boy whom she saved in the river. Rufus was once innocent and full of hope, and Dana had hoped that she could positively influence his perceptions. One overall message in this novel is that people are significantly influenced by their environments, which will shape the way they view themselves and others.

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Dana's relationship with Rufus is complex because she recognizes the humanity in even the most vile man. Her first visit to the past was transformational; she had seen a child drowning in a river and had rushed out to save him. Seeing that he wasn't breathing when they reached shore, Dana performed CPR and had brought him back to life. The boy's mother sobs the child's name in relief: Rufus. Dana considers that this is an "ugly name to inflict on a reasonably nice-looking kid." On the second visit to the past, Dana catches Rufus setting his drapes on fire. Dana beats the fire out of the drapes and scolds the child, realizing that this is the same child she saved in the river. Piecing details together, she finally concludes that this white child is actually her own ancestor; she had never before known that Rufus Weylin, was white.

As Rufus grows, he becomes increasingly violent and bitter; however, Dana always recalls the young child whom she initially saved and tried to help. She recognizes that Rufus has been taught to hate and that his society is ultimately responsible for the way Rufus views Black people. When he is young, Dana sees the hope in the young boy and believes that perhaps she can positively influence him. Ultimately, that proves impossible because of her limited scope of impact compared to the entirety of Rufus's society.

One of the underlying messages in this book is that people, to a large degree, are products of their environments. Children who are taught to hate others will almost certainly grow up to be hate-filled adults. If Rufus had been born in another time or location, like Dana, it's possible that he could have grown into an entirely different man. Instead, he grows up in a culture where he is trained to be a "master" over others. Both the slaves and whites in Rufus's society are taught that they have a particular social position, and this influences the way they see themselves and others around them. Rufus assumes a position of power because he is told that he has been born with this privilege, and this shapes the man he becomes—regardless of Dana's efforts to influence him.

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