The book is told from the first-person point of view of the heroine, Dana. Consequently, readers are exposed firsthand to Dana’s reactions to being transported to the antebellum South; to Dana’s evaluations of the nature of her white ancestor, Rufus; to her feelings about the initial naïveté of her husband concerning the oppression of black people and American Indians in the nineteenth century; and to her growing understanding of the perils and strengths of black people in general and slaves in particular.
Since the novel is told from Dana’s point of view, readers can empathize with her reactions both to her extraordinary experiences and to the brutality of the slavery era. One can readily identify with Dana’s feelings of powerlessness, since she must return to the antebellum South whenever Rufus’s life is endangered. Dana’s resultant inability to live normally in the present—her inability to drive a car, for example—becomes a vivid alteration in her life. Similarly, Dana’s first-person narration makes vivid for readers the cruelty and hardships black people faced in the antebellum South. Seeing slaves beaten, for example, makes Dana (and readers) aware that the beatings and abuse slaves suffered were much more shocking in reality than they seem through presentations on television and in films. Thus, Butler’s use of Dana as narrator enlivens the book’s subject matter.
Other characters are also brought vividly to life. Rufus develops from a boy who bonds with Dana into a complete racist who tries to rape her. Dana’s desire to protect Rufus from such a decline may disappoint readers, as he becomes the racist his society molds him to be. Another character whose development is enlivened by Dana’s reactions is Kevin. For example, Kevin’s naïve assumption that the nineteenth century would be a great time in which to live seems especially ridiculous in the light of Dana’s observations about the oppression of slaves and Indians. The growth in Kevin’s character is shown in a later conversation with Dana in which he tells her of his risking his safety to help slaves escape after he is separated from Dana and is left behind in the past. Butler uses Dana’s conversations and experiences with other characters to show the dynamic nature of those characters.
Butler’s use of Dana as the first-person narrator, therefore, does not create a myopic narrative style that makes everyone but the narrator seem static and flawed. Instead, Dana’s narration highlights the development and complexity both of Dana and of Kindred’s other characters.
Edana (Dana) Franklin
Edana (Dana) Franklin, the protagonist and narrator. A newly published author, Dana is a twenty-six-year-old black woman who has been married to Kevin Franklin, also an author, for four years. Dana is a modern American woman who is suddenly transported to the antebellum South. Her knowledge of medical practices allows her to help Rufus and some of the slaves.
Kevin Franklin, Dana’s husband. Kevin, a white man, and Dana have a successful and mutually satisfying interracial marriage. When Kevin is transported to the past with Dana, he must pose as her master because no other relationship would be tolerated. This is as problematic for Kevin as it is for Dana.
Rufus Weylin, Dana’s great-great-great-grandfather, a white plantation owner in antebellum Maryland. Rufus, by means Dana never discovers, summons Dana from the present to aid him in the past whenever his life is endangered. Rufus and Dana’s relationship is based on mutual need. Rufus requires Dana’s assistance in order to stay alive, and Dana must safeguard Rufus’ life long enough for him to sire Dana’s great-great-grandmother. Their relationship is brutally unequal, however, as Rufus is a white male slaveowner and Dana is a young black woman whom he enslaves. He resists Dana’s efforts to rid him of his racism.
Tom Weylin, Rufus’ father. Tom is a stereotypical white slaveowner. He is unpredictable, taking offense at the slightest infraction of his rules, and is without compassion for his slaves, beating them mercilessly when he deems it necessary. He uses female slaves sexually and discards mistresses when he tires of them. He separates families by selling fathers and children whenever he chooses.
Margaret Weylin, Rufus’ mother. Margaret, who is emotionally unstable, dislikes and is jealous of Dana because of Dana’s relationship with her son.
Alice Greenwood, Dana’s great-great-grandmother. Rufus passionately loves the freedwoman Alice but uses her without regard for her feelings. He rapes her, beats her until she is near death after she attempts to escape with her slave husband, sells her husband, enslaves Alice, and keeps her as his mistress. Dana nurses Alice from the brink of death, helping her to regain memories that fled as a result of the trauma of her capture and her husband’s torture and sale. Alice and Dana, who look much alike, have an ambivalent relationship. Although they aid each other, neither apparently likes the other. Alice forces Dana to confront her role on the plantation and challenges her loyalties to the other slaves. Alice eventually kills herself to be free of Rufus.
Sarah, the plantation cook. Sarah, a middle-aged, plump woman, appears to Dana almost as a stereotyped “Mammy,” in that she looks out for the other slaves and fiercely protects the children. Sarah is a multidimensional character, an able and compassionate woman who helps Dana learn the skills she needs to survive on the plantation.
Carrie, Sarah’s daughter. All of Sarah’s other children are sold, but Carrie, who is inexplicably mute, is allowed to remain with Sarah as a means of preventing Sarah from attempting to escape.
Nigel, a slave child and friend of Rufus in their youth. As an adult, he exerts a slight influence over Rufus. He is Carrie’s husband and the father of her children.