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Kindred | Study Guide

Octavia Butler

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Kindred | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


How and why does Kevin belittle Dana in "The Fight" section of Kindred?

In a flashback to Kevin and Dana's courtship, Kevin reduces her by saying she should get rid of "some of that book-club stuff that you don't read." He tries to diminish her stock and choice of books while trying to elevate himself. This is insulting because Kevin is belittling her taste in literature by telling her what books she should read. Kevin wants to assert power over Dana, yet she resists, countering him by saying she can go to his place and help whittle down his book collection. Dana's struggle to remain an equal is also shown in her refusal to type up Kevin's writing pages. She does not easily take his direction, even though he is older and more established in his writing career. So while Kevin tries to belittle Dana, she refuses to take a submissive position in their relationship.

How is the power over versus power under theme revealed in "The Fight" section of Kindred?

The power over versus power under theme comes through in the details of Kevin and Dana's relationship. Being older and more experienced in the writing field, Kevin has perceived power over Dana that he tries to maintain by criticizing her book collection and asking her to serve essentially as his secretary by typing up his manuscript. Another way the theme is shown is through their decision to marry. Though they get married without anyone's blessing, their family members try to have power over their decision by voicing objections. Dana and Kevin flout this and assert their power as a couple by marrying each other without the support of family.

Why are Dana's aunt's views about skin color significant in Kindred?

Dana and Kevin face racial prejudice from their families when they tell them they plan to marry. However, Dana thinks her aunt will approve of the marriage because she prefers blacks with lighter skin, and Dana and Kevin's children are likely to have lighter skin. Her aunt thinks Dana's skin is "too 'highly visible.'" This view supports the idea that lighter-skinned blacks sometimes gain access to the benefits of being white in a society based on white privilege. Dana does not comment further on her aunt's views; she states this in a matter-of-fact manner, supporting that others held the same view in 1976.

What are Dana's feelings toward time and place when she returns to 1976 without Kevin in Kindred?

When Dana returns to her home in 1976 without Kevin, she feels that "nothing [is] real." Dana has been living in the past timeline for two months, but she was gone from her modern-day timeline for only a few hours. This makes Dana feel confused and distant from herself, and she worries about Kevin. In the past, the violent whipping sends her home, yet in her modern space she feels the whipping has "no place here with me." Her wounds are still visible and haven't healed, but the plantation seems otherworldly, even if its marks are tangible in 1976.

Why does Dana read from varied genres while she is away from Kevin in "The Fight" section of Kindred?

While Dana is in her California home in 1976 without Kevin, she selects books to read to inform her about the antebellum time period. She looks through a paperback history of slavery. It includes important dates about the era and a map. Dana packs this book in her canvas bag. She says she reads "books about slavery, fiction and nonfiction." She can manage to read only a portion of Gone with the Wind because its "version of happy darkies in tender loving bondage" offends her. It is significant that the books she finds most useful and terrifying are about concentration-camp survivors during World War II. She hopes this information will help her to survive another trip to antebellum Maryland by better understanding her oppressors and their reasoning.

How do Isaac's pride and strength both help and harm him in Kindred?

Isaac is a physically strong character who takes pride in his strength. When Dana approaches the fight between Rufus and Isaac—which is the result of Rufus's rape of Alice—it is clear that Rufus is no match for Isaac's strength. However, though he has the desire and ability, Isaac restrains himself from killing Rufus. Dana offers to write Isaac a pass with the hope it will make his escape to freedom easier. Isaac ignores her offer and leaves without comment. Unfortunately, readers know he and Alice will be caught, so his pride and strength, while useful in some situations, do not serve him well in his refusal of Dana's assistance.

In what ways does Rufus treat Alice unjustly in "The Fight" section of Kindred?

Although Dana observes that Alice's dress is torn, she does not confirm that Rufus raped Alice until she questions him about the action. This is the first and worst injustice: the institutionalized right of sexual violence against black women. The violence is physical, emotional, and psychological. Other injustices include Rufus's effort to keep Alice from marrying Isaac, as well as his purchase of her as a slave despite her status as a free woman. Rufus's inability to see Isaac and Alice as real human beings with their own thoughts, feelings, and motivations is also an injustice. As a white man in the antebellum South, Rufus considers blacks as chattel, not humans, and doesn't feel remorse for violating Alice even though he has feelings for her.

How do maps and homes work as symbols in "The Fight" section of Kindred?

The map as symbol is shown in Dana's makeshift mapping out of how to find her way back to an injured Rufus as she goes to get help from the Weylin plantation. Dana takes paper from the notepad in her canvas bag and sticks pieces to the trees to mark her trail. Weylin accuses Dana of not knowing her way back to Rufus; however, she is able to lead the way with her rudimentary mapmaking. Symbolically, the map to Rufus probably saves him and, in turn, saves Dana. The home as a symbol for safety is revealed when Dana reaches the Weylin plantation after marking her path and trekking along an unknown road. Though the plantation is a place of bondage, it is also a makeshift home for her, offering protection for Dana and some of the other slaves from the elements and patrollers.

How and why does Sarah progress into the "mammy" character in "The Fight" section of Kindred?

According to Dana, Sarah has turned into the "mammy," or "the house-nigger." She sees that type as a "powerless woman who had already lost all she could stand to lose." The term mammy was a derogatory one, used in the antebellum South to refer to a black woman who cared for her employer's white children. At the start of the novel, Sarah has more gumption. She is bold enough to speak ill of Margaret Weylin behind her back. In "The Fall," Dana learns that Sarah has lost her husband and that three of her children were sold so Tom Weylin could buy his wife new furniture. When Dana talks about running away, Sarah cautions her: "You need to look at some of the niggers they catch and bring back. ... You need to see them—starving, 'bout naked, whipped, dragged, bit by dogs. ... You need to see them." The horrors of Sarah's experiences make her not want to hear black slaves talking about freedom. Escape from slavery has become unfathomable to Sarah. She becomes the caricature of "mammy" in others' eyes because she appears to have given in to the whites. At first Dana feels a bit superior to Sarah, but then she sees the condition Alice is in when she returns to the plantation and realizes that she had better be careful in word and action.

What is Dana's range of reactions to being caught running away in "The Fight" section of Kindred?

Tom Weylin and Rufus catch up to Dana while she is on the run from them. When she wakes after being kicked by Weylin, she is tied up and riding a horse with Rufus. After learning that she is to be whipped, the memory of the pain brings on pure, unfiltered rage. It takes Rufus, Weylin, and another man to secure Dana for whipping. She feels she could murder another person if only she had a weapon. Dana's emotions shift from a murderous rage to a fear of lacking the courage to survive, let alone to try to escape again. After this incident, she understands how "easily slaves are made," or how easy it is to break the spirit of even strong people with emotional and physical torture.

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