Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 973
In Kindred, Octavia Butler uses the science fiction plot device of time travel to explore how the history of the enslavement of blacks by whites in the United States is inseparable from the experiences of blacks and whites in the United States of the present. In Kindred, Butler uses time travel to give a modern audience the unique ability to have actual firsthand experience of slavery through the character of Dana, a contemporary of the reading audience. Through Dana’s experience, not only is the immediacy of history made apparent, but a more clear realization and understanding of the institution of slavery is reached.
I. Thesis: By sending a modern character, Dana, back in time, Butler is able to give this character—and through the character, the modern reader—as close as possible a firsthand experience of slavery. This firsthand experience enables Dana to understand through experience the complex forces of law and human behavior that enabled the institution to exist, and that caused people to willingly submit to slavery.
II. Evidence that Dana has previously educated herself about slavery—but that this book education does little to prepare her for the firsthand experience of being a slave.
III. Lack of human rights = blacks absolute vulnerability to physical and sexual assault.
a. Dana witnesses the beating of Alice’s father, and experiences assault by the white patrollers
b. Dana must teach the black slave children to read in secret=near impossibility of educating slaves
c. Tom Weylin whips Dana for stealing books
d. Example of Luke being sold as a consequence for not being obedient to Tom Weylin
e. Dana fails at trying to escape from the Weylins to find Kevin; she is whipped again
f. Isaac is tortured for beating a white man; Alice is tortured for helping a black slave to escape and is made a slave
g. Dana’s decision to help convince Alice to submit herself to Rufus in order to save her life=compromise that would be hard to understand for modern audience
IV. Comparison between Alice’s and Sarah’s philosophies towards slavery
a. Sarah: Acceptance of her lot as a slave
i. Forced into acceptance through fear for her personal safety
ii. Forced into acceptance through fear for the safety of her family
iii. Forced into acceptance through the experience of seeing her children sold away from her
iv. Dana’s realization that Sarah would be held in contempt by future historians for accepting her lot as a slave – has new understanding of why she was forced to acquiesce
b. Alice: Refuses to accept slavery
i. First time she runs away=attacked by dogs, almost killed
ii. Acquiesces to enslavement to Rufus=subject to his sexual desire, to his beatings; subject to control over her through her children
iii. Second time she runs away=whipped by Rufus, told that her children have been sold as punishment
iv. Suicide=only recourse to escape from enslavement to Rufus
V. Conclusion: Dana’s firsthand experience with slavery, and its physical and emotional effects on the enslaved person, as well as the experience of helplessness associated with a complete lack of legislated human rights, provides the understanding of how easily people can be made into slaves.
While Kindred is primarily a novel exploring the slavery of blacks in the United States, it also takes a secondary theme of exploring the lives of women in general in the South during this time. The contrast between Dana and the characters of the past serves to highlight the changes that have taken place in women’s rights and rights for people of color over the past century; but the hardships Dana still faces as a modern woman highlight the changes that still need to occur for complete equality to be realized.
I. Thesis Statement: In Kindred, the female characters of the antebellum South, both black and white, are contrasted with the modern character of Dana to highlight the significance of the progress of the women’s rights movement.
II. Examination of the character of Dana
a. Woman of color living in the 1970s
b. College educated
c. Is able to make her living by writing fiction
d. Independent: is not beholden to her husband for financial support; relationship with Kevin is based on intellect and equal love and respect
i. Example of independence in relationship with a white man: Dana can refuse to type his manuscripts
III. Examination of character of Margaret Weylin
a. Privileged white woman living in 19th century United States
b. Portrayed as hysterical, bored, and uneducated
i. Boredom result of having no meaningful occupation available to her
ii. Education not readily available to her as a woman
iii. Historical phenomenon of “hysteria” in privileged women prior to women’s rights movement; regard towards women as “perennial children”
iv. Beholden to her husband for financial support
1. Unable to hold her husband accountable for marital infidelity
IV. Examination of character of Alice Greenwood
a. A black free woman living in the 19th century southern United States
b. Unable to choose her own husband
c. Zero opportunity for education = illiteracy
d. Complete lack of rights = helplessness when kidnapped into slavery
e. Subject to rape and beatings = no control over sexuality, absolutely no liberty
V. Further examination of Dana
a. Some similarities still exist in 1970s United States to the injustices faced by women of the 19th century:
i. Conflict faced by Dana and Kevin because of their interracial relationship
ii. Dana’s cousin sees that she has been beaten (result of time travel, Tom Weylin) – assumes that Kevin beat her, and is not surprised = the prevalence of domestic abuse persisting
VI. Conclusion: Contrast of Dana with women of 19th century = much progress has been made, but a tie still exists between injustices towards women today, and those of the past.
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