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Kindred | Study Guide

Octavia Butler

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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the symbols in Octavia Butler's novel Kindred.

Kindred | Symbols



Weapons symbolize violence committed against slaves or against those defending themselves in hostile situations. The whip emerges several times, held by a white overseer or slave owner. Its use scars slaves physically, emotionally, and psychologically until the desire for freedom lessens. As Dana explains in "The Fall," Part 6, "The whip was heavy ... I wouldn't have used it on anything living." The whites use the whip to control with fear.

Dana combats the powerlessness of slavery by possessing her own weapons. She uses a tree limb to knock out her first assailant. She grips a stick to feel safer. She keeps a switchblade tucked beneath her clothing, and later she uses a knife to kill Rufus. Dana, a writer in 1976, also understands the power of words and uses them as a weapon against Tom Weylin and as a way to convince Rufus to act more humanely toward the slaves.


Maps symbolize access to freedom and safe passage. Dana researches maps in 1976 to help her navigate antebellum Maryland. With a map, she and other slaves gain knowledge of a route that could lead them to the North and away from bondage. In "The Fight," Part 6, Rufus tells Dana to burn a map, using the guise of her safety, saying he fears what would happen to her if his father found her with a map. She agrees, but only to keep the fragile nature of their relationship and her position on the plantation from breaking.


Homes symbolize places of safety in Dana's time travel. Returning to her home in California in 1976 always brings relief and modern comforts for Dana. She can properly tend to her wounds, eat meals, and collect useful belongings in her bag. At times, her modern home feels out of sorts because she has spent so much time in the past, yet it remains a constant, acting as a balm for her trauma in the past.

Though complicated by the institution of slavery, the Weylin plantation functions as a home for Dana as well. It functions as a community for her when she travels back to antebellum Maryland. Dana is shocked when she realizes she feels at home on the Weylin plantation, which speaks to her ability to adapt and adjust to ensure her own survival. Dana realizes that the formation of such communities is how repressed groups of people—such as slaves and people held in concentration camps in World War II—survive the horrors of their respective situations.

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