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Kindred | Study Guide

Octavia Butler

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Kindred | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


What are some examples of Rufus's "destructive single-minded love" in Kindred?

Rufus has a destructive kind of love toward Alice. However different, they have grown up together, and he cannot stand that she chooses to marry a black man instead of agreeing to Rufus's request for a sexual relationship. When she refuses this, Rufus rapes Alice, displaying the destructive, one-sided type of "love" he knows. Rufus pushes this to the breaking point, first when he forces Alice to have sex with him for years and second when he lies about selling their children. Rufus develops this type of love toward Dana partly out of a desire to replace Alice with Dana. Before Alice dies, he sees Dana as a companion he must have, one he is willing to shoot to keep from leaving. After Alice dies, Rufus tries unsuccessfully to rape Dana to fulfill his controlling, obsessive love of this "one woman," which is how he refers to Alice and Dana together.

Why is Dana concerned about Kevin having difficulty writing again in "The Storm" section of Kindred?

Once Kevin returns after being stuck in antebellum Maryland for five years, Dana wonders if he will blame her for the difficulty he is experiencing while trying to write again. She wonders whether he was able to publish anything while living in the past. During her previous trip to 1976, Dana had been unable to write, despite her best efforts. She wonders if they will be able to piece their literary lives back together after all of the troubled time spent in the past.

Why is Dana viewed as a healer by the people in the 1800s in "The Storm" section of Kindred?

Every time Rufus has been near death—nearly drowning, setting a fire in his bedroom (which others do not know about), breaking his leg, being beaten by Isaac, and now becoming very ill after being caught in the storm—Dana has been able to nurse him back to health. Dana believes he has malaria. Though she makes requests that seem strange and irrational, such as a mosquito net for his bed, people listen to her and fulfill her requests. Dana gives Rufus a modern painkiller, and he marvels at the pain reduction afterward. When Tom Weylin has a heart attack, Dana is the first one to be called while they wait for the doctor. It is Rufus's unrealistic perception of her abilities and his mercurial moods that make him take out his anger about his father's death on Dana by sending her to work in the fields.

How does Rufus's relationship with his mother compare to his relationship with Dana in "The Storm" section of Kindred?

Rufus has always seen his mother as something like a pet—or, at other times, a nuisance. She has fussed and coddled him but also hovered over him to the point of causing him to become incensed. No matter what Rufus does, Margaret forgives him. She continues to view him as a beloved son no matter what transgressions he commits. In some sense, Dana serves as a mother figure for Rufus, especially during his early years; however, as he reaches Dana's age, he begins to view her as a constant companion and, later, a sexual replacement for Alice. While Rufus's relationship with his mother has remained the same throughout the years, his relationship with Dana continues to evolve as Rufus gets older.

What is the effect of the coffle in "The Storm" section of Kindred?

In "The Storm," Dana witnesses the sale of slaves. White men on horseback lead a coffle of slaves, showing the violence and power over versus power under themes in a single scene. The coffle is made up of slaves chained two-by-two into one grouping of 12 slaves. Wearing iron collars and handcuffs, the slaves are treated not as human beings but as property. The entire construct of this device is to keep the slaves from running or fighting back against their oppressors. The white oppressors may whip the slaves, displaying violent acts in order to maintain control. The entire group may have to walk many miles from one selling block to the next, causing them great physical and mental harm. By bringing the coffle to plantations, the white owners show the slaves that they can be sold at any time, thus using fear and intimidation as a way to keep down unrest and thoughts of running away.

In "The Storm" section of Kindred, how is Dana's willingness to write letters for Rufus an example of situational irony?

Dana, an aspiring writer in her own time, writes letters to Rufus's creditors in order to persuade them to forgive or postpone debts so that Rufus will not have to sell any more slaves. This parallels Dana's refusal to type Kevin's pages, in a sense, but in the antebellum South, the stakes are too high for Dana to refuse. She knows what the consequences would be for a black woman living in that era. It is interesting that Rufus, a white man in a position of power, needs a black woman, who in his society can be raped and enslaved, to do work that requires an education.

How has Alice and Rufus's relationship changed by "The Storm" section of Kindred?

Alice and Rufus have two children who have died and two who have lived. After the birth of their second living child, Hagar, Alice fears that she has gotten used to Rufus. Other slaves also think Alice has became complacent. While she is able to shrug them off, Alice knows that if Rufus were ever to marry a white woman, her position would be even more compromised, as would the positions of Joe and Hagar. Rufus's obsessive, controlling love for Alice has not changed, but she has realized she must do something to prevent her from becoming too submissive toward him.

In "The Rope" section of Kindred, how does Kevin feel about Dana and Rufus's relationship?

Kevin shows jealousy toward Dana and Rufus. He tells Dana he would understand if anything sexual did happen between her and Rufus because he knows "how it was back then." Dana responds with the following: "You mean you could forgive me for having been raped." His jealousy and privilege show through in this moment, and Dana harshly calls him out on it. In comparison, when Kevin is trapped in the antebellum South for five years, Dana's first thoughts are not about any other women or relations he might have had but for his safety and health. This difference of concerns from Kevin and Dana demonstrates their varying levels of privilege in 1976.

What makes Rufus's final call to Dana in "The Rope" in Kindred complex?

Rufus calls Dana to him because he is thinking about killing himself over his grief about Alice's suicide. Dana wonders if his call to her was a "subconscious desire for me to stop him from shooting himself." The complexity lies in Rufus's involvement in Alice's suicide. Alice killed herself after being punished by Rufus for trying to run away; his punishment was telling her he had sold their children, which proved too much for Alice to bear. Even when she became ill with fever, Rufus did not tell her that he had actually sent the children to his aunt in Baltimore. Dana blames Rufus for Alice's death and tells him, "You killed her. Just as though you had put that gun to her head and fired." With Hagar born and safe—Rufus takes Dana with him to the courthouse to draw up certificates of freedom for both of his children—Dana no longer has a reason to keep saving Rufus. She has managed to live and survive as a slave long enough to see that her bloodline is intact. Dana has mixed emotions about Rufus—affinity, contempt, and fear—and she kills him to avoid being raped by him.

How do loneliness and betrayal propel the final action of Kindred in the section titled "The Rope"?

Just before he attempts to rape Dana, Rufus says, "I've never felt so lonesome in my life." The words resonate with Dana, who recalls how lonesome she had felt when she returned to 1976 without Kevin. But Dana realizes that Rufus's hopelessness will be an ongoing feeling, one from which she will have to save him again and again. Rufus once again betrays his tenuous agreement with Dana, and she realizes with certainty that he plans to rape her when he says, "I wonder how long it will take you ... to stop hating [me]." In an act of self-defense, Dana stabs Rufus, killing him and ending the necessity of her being recalled to the 1800s. However, a piece of her—her left arm—is literally left behind, and she carries the physical and emotional scars of her whippings and beatings back to 1976.

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