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Kindred | Study Guide

Octavia Butler

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Course Hero. "Kindred Study Guide." July 28, 2016. Accessed June 10, 2023.


Course Hero, "Kindred Study Guide," July 28, 2016, accessed June 10, 2023,

Plot Summary

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the plot summary of Octavia Butler's novel Kindred.

Kindred | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


In the prologue of Kindred, an unnamed narrator—who turns out to be the novel's protagonist, Dana—contemplates the loss of her left arm. The police suspect Dana's husband, Kevin, of mangling her arm, but when questioning her proves fruitless, the police give up, and the next time Dana wakes, Kevin is sleeping beside her in a hospital chair. They discuss the incident, both agreeing the truth will cause them to appear insane. They do not understand how Dana's arm was crushed.

Between the prologue and epilogue, Dana's journey spans both time and distance as she travels from Los Angeles in 1976 to Maryland in the 1800s, describing all of the events leading up to the loss of her arm.

In the section called "The River," it is June 9, 1976, Dana's 26th birthday. While she and Kevin unpack in their new house outside of Los Angeles, Dana grows dizzy. The room disappears, and Dana is transported to a riverbank. Hearing the screams of a drowning red-haired child, Dana jumps into the river and saves his life. The boy is five-year-old Rufus, Dana's ancestor, though she does not know this yet. For the rest of the book, Dana travels to the past every time Rufus is seriously endangered. When her own life is endangered, she returns to her own time. For Dana, time in the present (in the 1970s) almost stands still, while time in the past (in the 1800s) zooms ahead. She visits Rufus multiple times over a 20-year span of his life, but each time she returns to the present, hardly any time has passed.

In "The Fire," Rufus, a few years older, sets his drapes on fire, and Dana saves him again. Their conversation leads to the revelation that Dana has traveled to Maryland in 1815. Rufus is the son of a slave owner, and he and his family live on a plantation. Rufus's last name, Weylin, jogs Dana's memory of a family Bible passed down from previous generations. Dana, a black woman, has never been told of having white ancestors. She does remember that the family Bible lists Rufus Weylin as the father of Hagar Weylin, Dana's grandmother. Dana also remembers that Hagar's mother was a black woman named Alice. Rufus knows her; Alice and her mother, both born free, live in a cabin in the nearby woods. The main goal for Dana becomes to protect Rufus and ensure Hagar's birth, thus securing her own future existence.

In "The Fall," Rufus falls from a tree, sending Dana back in time once again. This time, Kevin holds onto Dana, and they travel to the past together. In this section, Dana plays the role of a slave, while Kevin (who is white) pretends he owns her. Dana worries how playing a white slave owner will change Kevin. At the end of the section, Tom Weylin, Rufus's father, whips Dana, and the pain sends her spiraling back to her own time. Kevin is left behind.

"The Fight" allows Dana to engage with her great-grandmother, Alice, and to retrieve Kevin. When Dana arrives back in the 1800s, a man is beating Rufus while a woman in a torn dress watches. The woman is Alice. Rufus, now 18 or 19, has raped Alice, and the man beating him is Isaac, Alice's husband. Isaac, a slave, attempts to escape with Alice, but he is caught, brutally punished, and ultimately sold. Alice, formerly a free woman, is forced to become Rufus's slave as punishment for her part in the escape. Meanwhile, Dana waits for letters from Kevin, who, in Dana's long absence, has moved to the North. Kevin finally comes back to the plantation, and Rufus, by trying to force her to stay, causes Dana and Kevin to tumble back to Los Angeles.

"The Storm" brings Dana back just before Hagar's birth. Alice has become Rufus's slave and concubine. Once Hagar is born, Alice, who also has a son with Rufus, determines to run away because Rufus refuses to free their children, who are legally Rufus's slaves. Dana agrees to help Alice but never has the chance. During a confrontation, Rufus slaps Dana, and she realizes his attachment to her has become too dangerous. Dana slits her wrists as a means to control her travel back to her own time. Kevin wants Dana to end the time travel and kill Rufus. Dana assures Kevin that if Rufus ever tries to rape her, she will take his life.

In "The Rope," Dana is pulled back to the past by Rufus's thoughts of suicide. Dana finds out Alice has killed herself. Rufus, to punish Alice for running away, told her he sold their children, when in fact he sent them to live with his aunt in Baltimore. The heartbreak drove Alice to suicide.

Dana stays on the Weylin plantation, urging Rufus to free his slaves. Rufus is more possessive now that Alice is dead, and eventually he turns his desires toward Dana. When he tries to rape her, she stabs him twice. The act propels her to the present time, but her arm is crushed into the wall in the exact place Rufus grips her on the other side. Dana must tear her own arm out of the wall.

In the epilogue, Dana and Kevin travel to the area where the Weylin plantation may have been. Trying to make sense of their experience and preserve their sanity, they search for evidence of the past. They find a newspaper article claiming Rufus died in a fire and a receipt confirming all the Weylin slaves were sold upon Rufus's death. Hagar is not mentioned, so Dana assumes Hagar's grandmother, Margaret Weylin, raised her in Baltimore, the place the family Bible lists as Hagar's hometown.

Kindred Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Dana time travels and saves Rufus from drowning.

Rising Action

2 Dana learns about Rufus when she stops the fire he set.

3 Kevin travels with Dana to the antebellum South.

4 Dana gets whipped and goes home without Kevin.

5 Dana stops Rufus in a fight and helps Alice and Isaac flee.

6 Alice is caught, ravaged by dogs, and cared for by Dana.

7 Kevin and Dana are reunited.

8 Rufus lies to Alice about the sale of their children.


9 Dana stabs and kills Rufus.

Falling Action

10 Dana time travels home.

11 Dana and Kevin discuss their experiences.


12 Time traveling is done, yet Dana's arm is severed.

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