Discussion Topic

Rufus and Alice's use of Dana in Kindred


In Kindred, Rufus and Alice use Dana for different purposes. Rufus manipulates Dana to maintain control over her, using her to ensure his survival and to manage his relationships. Alice, on the other hand, relies on Dana for support and comfort in her oppressive circumstances, revealing the complex dynamics of dependence and manipulation present in the story.

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Why does Rufus use Dana to connect with Alice in Kindred?

Octavia Butler’s novel Kindred is historical and science fiction. Our protagonist Dana travels from her current setting, California in 1976, back in time to 1815. In 1815, she finds herself on a slave plantation in Maryland with the Weylin family, a wealthy slave-owning family. As she learns more about the time and people, she realizes that they are her relatives.

On her first trip to 1815, Dana rescues Rufus, a spoiled boy and son of the plantation's slave master, Tom Weylin. With each visit, she learns more about Rufus and has to deal with the treatment of slaves in the time. Dana often hates Rufus and his actions, but she also tries to help and understand him; she hopes that she can have an impact on him and make him a better person. This usually does not work out the way she wants.

Dana helps Rufus get to Alice because she knows her family line depends on it. She also believes that if she doesn’t help Rufus, he will just rape Alice. He tells her,

“Go to her. Send her to me. I'll have her whether you help or not. All I want you to do is fix it so I don't have to beat her. You're no friend of hers if you won't do that much!"

Rufus uses Dana to get to Alice because he knows that he can. He knows that Alice is not interested in him; in fact, she has flat out rejected his advancements, an embarrassment he can not tolerate. So, he uses Dana to influence Alice. He knows that Dana wants to write to her husband, Kevin and that she cares about Alice, and so Rufus uses this as a way to bargain with Dana.

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Why does Rufus like both Dana and Alice in Kindred?

Well, on the level of plot and symbolism, Rufus likes them both because they are related. This gives Dana a direct stake in what's happening in her past (rather than just being a sort of confused spectator).  Physically, they look similar, so it is fair to say that Rufus has a type. 

On a deeper emotional level, he likes both of them for some of the same reasons he gets angry at them at times: because there is something deep in their hearts and minds that challenges him, that makes him want to be, in the words of a contemporary movie, a better man, and something that he wants to conquer and possess.

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In Kindred, why does Rufus use Dana to get to Alice, and does Alice use Dana too?

For textual evidence regarding this question, I would use the first four chapters of the book. The chapters are lengthy, so that is still a lot of material to comb through. What you should focus on is why Dana keeps being sent back in time. Dana seems to be transported back in time to a location that is near Rufus, and every single time Rufus is in grave danger: he is near drowning, he has broken his leg, or he is about to receive a beating that could end his life. Dana always swoops in and saves him in one way or another, so it appears to Rufus that Dana is his guardian angel. Dana will eventually explain to Rufus that she is travelling through time and gets pulled back to his time period whenever his life is in danger. Consequently, Rufus knows that Dana is somehow bound to help him, and this gives him a bit of leverage over Dana. Dana is also hurt by the fact that she is black, and chapter four shows readers how Rufus uses that fact against Dana. Rufus tells Dana that he needs her to help him with his goal to have sex with Alice. Rufus says that if Dana doesn't convince Alice to do this, then he will make the women's lives miserable. Dana agrees to help. She is disgusted with herself for helping, but Dana also believes that she will cease to exist if Alice does not begin birthing Rufus's children.

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Dana finds herself caught in the middle of the relationship between Rufus and Alice. Why does Dana use Rufus to get to Alice? Does Alice use Dana?

I understand what this question is asking, but I would definitely hesitate to say that Rufus and Alice have a relationship that Dana gets in the middle of. I would hesitate to say that for two reasons.

First, I wouldn't say that Dana finds herself caught in the middle of the relationship. Dana is very responsible for the relationship existing in the first place. There wouldn't have been a relationship without Dana encouraging Alice to stop fending off Rufus's advances. Second, I hesitate to call what Rufus and Alice have as a "relationship" in the traditional boy/girl/man/woman/love sense of the word. Alice is "with" Rufus to protect herself. She can go along with his advances and sexual demands, or she can be beaten and raped.

Dana's decision to convince Alice to have a "relationship" with and have sex with Rufus is entirely a selfish decision. Despite the fact that Dana lives in 1976 and has never see Back to the Future, she adheres to the movie's time travelling logic. Dana knows that her family line comes from Alice and Rufus. She believes that if Alice and Rufus do not produce children, Dana's family lines will cease to exist. Therefore, Dana would cease to exist. The logic makes sense as long as only one timeline exists and changes to the past can influence a future. This is why Dana uses both Rufus and Alice. Dana needs both of them to survive and produce children in order to ensure her own future existence.

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