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“Kindred” by Octavia Butler Literature Analysis Essay

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Updated: May 8th, 2020

“Kindred” is a book that tells the story of slavery, survival, and love. Octavia Butler employs the thriller genre to present her slavery narrative. Butler’s narrative can be summarized as the main character’s journey in which she meets her ancestor, saves her ancestor, and then kills her ancestor. “Kindred” does make use of strong emotions such as those used in Tony Morrison’s book “Beloved.”

Also, the author does not invest too much in her characters as Hailey did in “Roots.” However, the book manages to present the reader with a realistic possibility of being involved in slavery. The author of “Kindred” labels the book as a work of science fiction even though the book fits more into other genres such as thriller, time travel, black history fiction, drama, and love story genres.

The book begins in 1976 when a couple is moving into a new house. The couple consists of Kevin, a white novelist and his wife, twenty-six-year-old African American aspiring writer Edana Franklin. When the two are unpacking their belongings, Dana starts feeling dizzy, passes out, and finds herself in an unfamiliar world. Dana finds herself in front of a river where a white boy is drowning. Instinctively, she jumps into the river and saves the boy.

This is in spite of the fact that the boy’s mother is yelling to Dana to “get her black hands off her son” (Butler 11). The boy’s father points a gun to Dana’s head, and before he shoots her, she is taken back to her apartment where Kevin is looking at her in awe. Dana’s husband informs her that she had been teleported, but even before she processes this information, it happens again.

Dana meets with the same boy while he is trying to burn down a house and manages to rescue him in time. This time Dana manages to ask some questions, and she learns that she is involved in time travel and the little boy is his ancestor. Dana has been picked to be the one who keeps the boy alive until he can start his ancestry (Butler 24). Therefore, if the boy dies before starting a bloodline, Dana’s existence will be in jeopardy.

In the course of her time travel episodes, Dana comes face to face with many misfortunes including almost being raped and killed. Her biggest challenge is to identify herself in 1815 because she does not have the necessary identification documents (Butler 78). In the next few weeks, Dana is involved in various instances of time travel where she is supposed to rescue Rufus, her ancestor.

In the course of these events, she becomes close with some of the slaves in Rufus’ plantation. Also, she is involved in several adventures, including time traveling with her white husband. For instance, at one time, her husband is left stranded, and Dana “has to go back five years to rescue him” (Butler 135).

The book mostly relies on the main character when telling the slavery story. The main heroine is a knowledgeable African American woman who is married to a white novelist. Dana’s wide knowledge of historical and social matters is very instrumental during her time travel episodes. The author uses the heroine to explore black history. When Dana is transported to the past, she adapts to that environment with ease. Her intellect helps her in understanding the plight of a nineteenth century black woman.

During her time at the plantation, Dana faces her predicament with dignity. In spite of all the things that happen to Dana, she just shrugs them off and keeps on going. She avoids getting involved in any of the modern Civil Rights palaver. It would be correct to assume that any person from the Civil Rights’ Era would be too eager to preach the equal rights gospel to the stakeholders of slavery. However, the author chooses not to delve into this angle and creates a character who understands the history and the scenarios surrounding slavery.

Moreover, Dana’s attitude towards the characters she encounters during her time travel is civil and compassionate. Dana’s role is to be an observer of slavery and not a critic. The main character recognizes that her protests will not change either the past or the future. All she needs to do is to ensure that the past is not distorted so that her current life is guaranteed.

For instance, she does not try to ‘change Rufus’ behavior’ during her interactions with him (Butler 102). By not being vocal against slavery and the other injustices she encounters, Butler’s main character acts as a trustworthy slavery observer. Dana seems to understand that the characters she encounters are a product of their time, and that is why she carries on with her life unperturbed by people’s actions.

Nevertheless, Dana is not ignorant of the challenges she witnesses during her time travel. This is in line with the author’s aim of exploring slavery from the inside while still maintaining a periodical distance. The same applies to Kevin when he travels back to 1815. Although he has the advantage of not being mistaken for a slave, he does not try to alter the dynamics of the past. The only radical activity Kevin engages in is “aiding escaping slaves” (Butler 199). However, this was a common practice during the slavery period.

The metaphor of time travel is used extensively in this book. The author uses time travel to subdivide the sections in her book. Each time-travel episode in the book gives a complete section of the story. The time travel metaphor is not used as a scientific aspect, but it is used to show the passage of time. The author does not explain the mechanisms of time travel, but she uses it as an interface between the past and the present. The simple nature of this time travel shows how people consider slavery as a simple occurrence.

At the beginning of the book, time travel is a little shocking, but as the book progresses, it becomes mundane. The metaphor of time travel shows how easy it is for people to get used to the institution of slavery in the same Dana gets used to time travel and slavery.

The main character’s inability to control her time travel episodes is a metaphor for how the people who were entrapped in slavery were unable to control their fate. Dana moves back and forth in her time travel episodes, just like the people who were involved in slavery were moved around by its events.

“Kindred” is more about fantasy time travel than it is about science and fiction. First, the author does not try to explain the metaphysics behind the time travel aspect. This implies the science behind the time travel is irrelevant to the story being told. Butler’s characters just find themselves in a tricky situation, and they try their best to maneuver through their predicaments and come out alive. The essence of time travel is to allow the plot to develop.

The author explores how modern people would fare in slavery, Maryland irrespective of their race. In one instance, Dana claims that reality in 1815 is “a sharper and stronger reality” (Butler 191). The author uses Dana and her husband as a thought provocation mechanism. Through these two main characters, the reader can contemplate what it would be like to survive through the most difficult days of slavery. Also, readers can think about how this experience would change their historical outlook.

Depending on whether the reader is white or black, his/her survival chances would vary. The question of how an individual might react to the slavery environment also comes up. Several people would react differently to how Dana reacted. For instance, most people would be too eager to demand their rights and freedoms, while others would most likely urge the enslaved characters to revolt.

The author makes Dana’s quick adaptation to slavery seem easy. However, readers find it hard to believe that an ordinary human being would adapt to such hardships with ease. The author wants the readers to believe that the main actor easily adapted to her new environment with few reservations. For instance, Dana observes that “the slaves seemed to like Rufus and fear him at the same time” (Butler 229). However, this outcome is quite unlikely in such a scenario.

Although the book is fictional, it would be more realistic if the main character put up a resistance against her new predicament. The author fronts her book as a work of science fiction. However, her work ignores the parameters of science fiction. Science fiction readers would find the book substandard in various aspects. The author also seems to misuse several literary genres in a bid to pass her message across. Science fiction is one of the genres that the author associates her work with but fails to abide by their disciplines.

Moreover, the author touches on time travel and love story genres but does not fully commit to these genres. The author avoids abiding in any specific genre in a bid to remain true to her core themes. However, the author risked producing substandard literary work by not abiding by any specific genre.

The book’s author presents a near accurate 1815, but her 1976 is too idealized. According to the author, the main character has not encountered any major racial prejudice in her life. This would be an unlikely development in 1976 because racial prejudice was common. Therefore, Dana would have encountered racial prejudice in the course of her education, her social encounters, or her part-time job.

According to the author, Dana could have been “the little woman who knew very little about freedom….the female Uncle Tom” (Butler 145). This assumption prompts the reader to speculate that the main character was living in a 1976 Utopia. This would also mean that the book was a challenge to African Americans who are ignorant of their slavery history.

Although the author makes several genre-related oversights, “Kindred” is a fascinating and thrilling time-travel account. The author strikes a perfect balance between fiction and human drama. The author relies on her well-balanced main character to deliver her message to the readers. Overall, the book is a well-researched time travel cum black history account on the effects of slavery on a modern white or black American.

Works Cited

Butler, Octavia. Kindred, New York, NY: Beacon Press, 1988. Print.

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