The Concept of Time Travel in Kindred, a Novel by Octavia Butler
The novel Kindred by Octavia Butler is a story based upon time travel. The protagonist,
Dana, travels back in time to Maryland around the early 1800’s when slavery was very prevalent. Dana makes it clear that they were originally observing everything. She states on page 98, “We’re observers watching a show. We were watching history happen around us. And we were actors.” With Dana being a black woman in the 1800’s she was bound to be a slave. Butler creates the setting based upon the trials Dana encounters as a slave and the experiences she had in the 1970’s where she was originally born. The author makes it so that the reader can determine how attitudes towards women and blacks have changed; it is evident that there is a different reflection of the challenges, but they still exist in the current time.
In my opinion, Kindred displays slavery as though it is not a modern-day thing. The main difference with modern day slavery is that it is voluntary. No one was forced to work in the job Dana obtained; if your work didn’t meet your boss’s criteria you were sent home. This is obviously nothing like the brutal punishment that the slaves received for not working to their slave master’s approval. On page 212, Dana recalls working at the plantation. “I raised the knife and chopped at the first stalk. It bent over, partially cut. At almost the same moment, Fowler lashed me across the back.”
To this day racism is still common. During the time of Kindred, civil rights weren’t in place. Dana was not like an average slave when it came to her speech, clothing, and education; but her skin color put her into the same category as the slaves. It was impossible for her to be anything other than a slave. “In town, once, I heard a man brag how he and his friends had caught a free black, tore up his papers, and sold him to a trader. I said nothing. He was right, of course. I had no rights, not even any papers to be torn up.” (Page 139). All slaves had the same rights, which were none and at any time a free slave could lose their freedom. At times children
were created between white men and black slaves. The children would be considered slaves
unless freed by their owner. Rufus took advantage of this by raping and buying Alice as a slave. He didn’t necessarily care that this type of union wasn’t acceptable to most other whites.
Dana and her husband Kevin’s union was also seen as unacceptable. This was made clear when Dana told Kevin, “I think my aunt accepts the idea of my marrying you because any children we have will be light… She doesn’t care much for white people, but she prefers light-skinned blacks… Anyway, she forgives me for you. But my uncle doesn’t. He’s sort of taken this personally… He… well, he’s my mother’s oldest brother, and he was like a father to me even before my mother died because my father died when I was a baby. Now… it’s as though I’ve rejected him. Or at least that’s the way he feels.” (Page 111). Her uncle is not pleased with their union and neither is Kevin’s sister. He lost touch with his sister after she was unaccepting of Dana and disowned him. He explained to Dana, “I thought I knew her, I mean, I did know her. But I guess we’ve lost touch more than I thought… she didn’t want to meet you, wouldn’t have you in her house or me either if I married you.” (Page 110) Although their union was unacceptable to society due to the animosity between the two races, Rufus was still willing to accept his children. He educated them and eventually set them free from being slaves. His father and wife on the other hand did not approve and abused the children at times.
Blacks are not the only class that has experiences with racism. All throughout the world women are looked at as beneath men. Kindred exemplifies this as well, Margaret Weylin was a white woman who was illiterate compared to the original Mrs. Weylin who was more educated than her husband, Tom. Mr. Weylin made sure that his next wife wasn’t educated. This is evidenced on page 98, “Daddy was married to her before he married Mama, but she died. This place used to be hers. He said she read so much that before he married Mama, he made sure she
didn’t like to read.” In addition to it be being normalized to have little to no education, women did not help the men in controlling the slaves. This was made obvious following the passing of Rufus and Mr. Weylin, the general expectation would be to pass on the plantation to Margaret but she was expected to not get involved in it; as it was her job to take care of the household and children.
In modern times women are treated better but it is still a general expectation by society for women to conform. It was expected for women to be submissive, Butler exemplifies this when Kevin got upset `with Dana on page 109, “The second time he asked, though, I told him, and I refused. He was annoyed. The third time when I refused again, he was angry. He said if I couldn’t do him a little favor when he asked, I could leave. So I went home.” He expected her to do as he pleased even though she didn’t want to. This was even shown early in the novel, during her choice of a career path “They wanted me to be a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher.” (Page 55). All three of these are known as careers for women. This was part of the reason she hung on to her agency job although Kevin offered to take care of her until she found something better, she didn’t want Kevin to strip her of her independence so she declined.
Although Dana looks for independence from her husband she still loves him and they continue to have a healthy relationship. Throughout the novel, her views of her husband remain the same although she observes how whites treated black women in the 1800’s. She witnessed the sexual degradation that black women suffered from white men in the raping of Alice and her love for Kevin remained the same. (Foster)
Problems that were introduced in the book still are prevalent even though this novel is over a century old. The novel describes a never-ending cycle of controversial issues that seem to have disappeared but still thrive in modern day. Oppression is present even if racism is ignored.
In conclusion, the novel revealed that racism, gender inequalities, and slavery are still a disguised component of today’s world.
Octavia Butler. “Kindred”. Boston: Beacon Press
Foster, Guy Mark. “Do I Look Like Someone You Can Come Home to from Where You May Be
Going?” 2007. Web.