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Kindred | Study Guide

Octavia Butler

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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of the prologue of Octavia Butler's novel Kindred.

Kindred | Prologue | Summary


Kindred is divided into sections with titles such as "The River" and "The Fire." Each section is based on a deadly threat to Rufus, with the last, "The Rope," referring to the tool Alice uses to commit suicide. Some sections are further divided into numbered parts.


An unnamed woman has lost her arm. From her hospital room she reflects on the limb's loss and how police have come in and out of the room, questioning her about a man named Kevin, who they suspect of inflicting the injury. After reassuring police many times of Kevin's innocence and saying she lost her arm in an accident, the narrator wakes up with Kevin sleeping in a chair beside her bed. Kevin comforts her as she finds the courage to look at her severed arm. She wants to know what Kevin told the police about the accident. He says, "The truth." The woman says if he had told the truth he would be locked away in a mental institution. Kevin explains further what he told the police: upon hearing the woman scream in the living room, he rushed in from the bedroom and found her struggling to pull her arm out of the wall. He calls the woman by her name—Dana—revealing the narrator's identity. He says he doesn't understand exactly what happened. She whispers back to him, "Neither do I."


Octavia Butler engages readers with the opening lines and situation of the novel. Right away, readers may ask questions about the narrator's crushed arm and may wonder about the relationship between Kevin and Dana. The questions evoked early on lure readers into the action, compelling them to continue reading to find out the answers.

With this beginning, a scene in which the reader discovers that the protagonist has been harmed, one of the novel's themes is driven into the readers' minds: violence. Dana's arm has been violently crushed. What led to this? What happened before the events of the prologue? In the prologue, Dana is wary of being thought mentally unstable if she speaks the truth. Like many stories with a flashback narrative, readers get a glimpse of things to come.

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