A critical essay on Kindred
Octavia Butler writes science fiction. She has written such books as Patternmaster(1976), Dawn(1987), and Imago(1989) to name a few. There is no debate among critics as to the classification of these novels. Most readers would not disagree after hearing tales of the Oankali, ooloi, Patternists, and Clayarks. Butler's novel Kindred(1979) in also classified in the fantasy/sci-fi realm, but it is a very different sort of work. This change in pace leads to many questions about its content, style and popular acceptance.
Aside from being classified as a work of science fiction, Kindred has also been labeled a neo-slave narrative. Kindred is the story of a modern black woman Dana who is involuntarily sent back to the early 1800's on a mission of self-preservation. To insure that she will be born, she must save the life of her great-great-grandfather Rufus so that he can rape her great-great-grandmother Alice, which will eventually lead to her own existence. Rufus Weylin is the white son of a white slave and plantation owner in antebellum Maryland. Over Dana's six trips back in time she takes on the role of a free, highly educated black woman who is the companion of a white man Kevin. Kevin, her husband in the present, California in 1976, grabs on to Dana before her third trip back so that he can be with her. Before each trip back in time, Dana gets dizzy and is then taken back to Rufus, at times when his life is in danger. As she later discovers, she is able to return to 1976 only when her life is in grave danger.
The idea of an inter-racial marriage is broached very early in this book. In the present day, such a marriage is not as uncommon as it would have been in the early 1800's. When Kevin travels back in time with Dana, their outward relationship must change in order to be accepted in the times of slavery. Dana and Kevin both realize how important it is to act "properly" for the situation at hand. If Kevin were to show how he really felt about Dana, he might lose respect and power among the whites. They would see him as being ruled by a woman, and a black woman at that. It is accepted to take your black companion to bed with you, but it is not accepted to have feelings for her. The line Kevin and Dana were forced to walk along with their relationship was very thin. In order to draw the least amount of attention to themselves, they try to do as a white man and his free black companion would do in the antebellum south.
On the third trip back to Maryland, when Kevin accompanies her, she begins to take on the role she will have every time she returns. Dana volunteers in the kitchen and helps around the house to fit in as much as possible with the other blacks. By doing this, she is accepting the role of a partial slave since Kevin can not always be around to save her from punishment, and the elder Weylins and their overseer have a hard time accepting Dana as a free, educated black woman. Although she is not treated as roughly as some of the other slaves, she is not given any respect as a free woman; black equals slave in their minds.
Dana is returned to the present, while Kevin is left in the past. Dana has been teaching a slave boy Nigel how to read, since he showed interest. They take books from the library to use for the lessons. One day when Dana is going to give Nigel a spelling lesson, she is caught by Tom Weylin. Everyone knows that it is very risky to teach a slave to read, especially if you