Literature Study GuidesKindredThe Fire Parts 1 6 Summary

Kindred | Study Guide

Octavia Butler

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The Fire, Parts 1–6

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of The Fire, Parts 1–6 of Octavia Butler's novel Kindred.

Kindred | The Fire, Parts 1–6 | Summary



Part 1

Dana takes a shower to wash away the river water, fearing she will disappear again and reappear naked somewhere else. After her shower, Kevin coaxes Dana to go out to dinner, but she is too afraid to leave the house, so they order take-out food. While they eat, Dana experiences another dizzy spell. She pushes away from the table but is unable to get up. Kevin asks if it is happening again, and Dana answers, "I think so." Then the floor looks far away, and Dana's chair vanishes.

Part 2

The sun was just setting where Dana was eating in her kitchen. Here it is dark. A red-haired boy holds a wooden stick spiraling smoke from one end when Dana appears in his bedroom. His red hair makes her think of Rufus, the child she saved by the river, but this boy is older. In her confusion, Dana initially fails to notice the bedroom drapes are on fire. She shakes away the heaviness and leaps into action, tearing the drapes off the window and throwing them outside onto the ground below.

Dana takes the wooden stick from the boy and tells him someone should use it on him to teach him not to play with fire. This makes the boy upset and angry, and, with a Southern accent, he threatens to tell his daddy if Dana dares touch him, leaving Dana to wonder if she is in the American South, 3,000 miles away from her home in Los Angeles.

Feeling stranded and afraid to be caught in a strange house at night and perceived as an intruder, Dana determines to find out all she can from the boy. He is also curious about how she appeared in his bedroom and why, but he is calm and doesn't feel a need to run for help. Dana asks his name and finds out he is Rufus, the same boy she saved from drowning. This was only a few hours ago to her, but it was three or four years ago to him. They discuss the event from his childhood. Rufus says he remembers seeing Dana as he was drowning. His mama believed Dana was a ghost, and when Rufus tried to talk about Dana disappearing in front of them, his mama hit him. Dana theorizes that Rufus calls her when he needs her and that she is traveling across both time and distance.

Arguing about the appropriate names they should use to address each other—Dana prefers "black woman" and Rufus "master" or "mister"—leads to the discovery that Dana is in the year 1815 and Rufus's father is a plantation owner named Tom Weylin. He owns 38 slaves, and the plantation is located across the bay from Baltimore, which Rufus calls "Baltimore City." Hearing the name Weylin triggers Dana to remember a family Bible passed down for generations with "Hagar Weylin" written in it. Dana remembers reading that her grandmother was born in 1831 to parents named Alice Greenwood and Rufus Weylin, but no one in her family ever mentioned a white ancestor. However, the memory does not come easily to Dana, and she does not share this information with Rufus. She says only that she may know a girl named Alice who lives "around here somewhere." Rufus knows Alice; he says they are friends. She and her mother were "born free," meaning they are not slaves, and they live nearby. Dana wonders about "the paradox" of being called upon to save an ancestor's life—if he were to die before fathering Hagar, Dana wouldn't exist to save him.

Dana knows she must find a safe place to stay until she returns to her own time, if that is even possible. Rufus suggests Dana go find Alice and her mother. Dana takes his suggestion, thinking finding them is better than trying to work for Tom Weylin, who whips his own son, or roaming around in the dark in an unknown time and place.

Part 3

Frightened by the possibility of seeing a white, adult male, Dana makes her way through a field and into the woods, heading toward where Rufus told her Alice and her mother's cabin is located. When an animal brushes past her leg, Dana has a dizzy spell, causing her to hope for a return home to the present, but it does not happen. Slightly lost by turning around in the field, Dana reorients herself and finds the road Rufus mentioned. She sees a horse-drawn wagon in the moonlight. The wagon is carrying eight white men, so she hides in tall grass. The wagon heads toward what she believes to be Alice and her mother's cabin. Dana decides to follow the wagon. She hides again and watches as the men break down the cabin door. Four men go inside and come back out with a black man, woman, and child. The white men harass the black man for not having a pass giving him permission to be away from his master, but they do not say who his master is. They tie the man to a tree close to Dana and brutally whip him as Dana cries silently, fearing the men will hear her if she cries out. Another white man harasses the black woman, who waits, wrapped in a blanket and with her head down, while the men whip her husband. The white men rip off her blanket and mock her for covering herself. After they finish whipping the man, they tie up his hands, attach him to a horse, and leave, practically dragging him away on the ground as he tries to keep up with them. A white man walks back to harass the woman by the porch again. Dana cannot hear what the woman says, but the man punches her in the face in response, knocking her to the ground. When the men are really gone, Dana comes to help. She sees the little girl move to run into the woods, but Dana calls out, "Alice," and the child turns around. It really is Alice. Dana has found the right cabin, and she knows the occupants are her ancestors.

Part 4

Alice's mother lies unconscious on the ground outside of the cabin. Dana tells Alice to fetch water, and she uses it to revive the woman. When the woman recovers, she wants to know who Dana is. Dana tells her she is a free woman, adding that she is from New York. Alice's mother agrees to let Dana stay until tomorrow night. She also confirms that the Weylins own Alice's father, the man Dana saw whipped by the patrol. Dana heads outside to retrieve the blanket ripped off Alice's mother, just as a white man, who has come back to cause trouble, grabs her arm. Dana fights him, realizing he intends to rape her and try to sell her as a slave; apparently he has confused her for Alice's mother. Trying to dodge a punch to her face, Dana bangs her head into a thick tree branch lying on the ground and then uses it to temporarily knock out the man by hitting him on the head. Fearing for her life if he wakes up, Dana steadies herself against a thick tree trunk, but the tree seems to wobble, then disappear, and everything fades to darkness.

Part 5

As Dana regains consciousness, she feels pain and sees the blurred face of a man. She immediately kicks and scratches him until she recognizes Kevin's voice. Back in the present in Los Angeles, she is dirty, bloody, and exhausted, Dana refuses to allow Kevin to take her to the hospital. She fears disappearing from there into the past. Kevin tells her she was gone for three minutes this time, but she knows she was gone for hours. Dana just wants to sleep now, but Kevin must find out if the man she fought raped her. Dana tells Kevin he did not. Then she falls asleep.

Part 6

The next morning, Dana wakes up with a tote bag tied around her waist. Kevin is still confused about what is happening but knows Dana is actually disappearing and returning from somewhere. He wants her to be able to protect herself, so he has placed clothing, shoes, and a switchblade knife in the bag.

After Dana explains that patrollers are men hired to hunt runaway slaves, they research black-history books to see if they can forge documents saying Dana is free or write a pass for her to carry with her if she goes back again. They find a map of Maryland showing rivers and main highways, and they learn that 1815 is too early for Dana to try using the Pennsylvania Railroad if need be. Talking about the details of Dana's experiences helps them realize that Dana will travel to Rufus when his life is in danger and return when her own life is threatened. Dana realizes she must also protect Alice and her mother—not just Rufus—because Dana's birth depends on their safety.


This section starts by showing Dana and Kevin trying to get back to normalcy. While it seems that Kevin believes it to be possible, Dana is nervous and scared. This shows her vulnerable position—as a black woman, she is experiencing the lack of freedom and control over her life that slaves experienced. Readers can feel her vulnerability because, just as Dana sits on a chair that vanishes beneath her, they are on edge, waiting for Dana to experience the unknown and unnamable.

Often in science fiction, a protagonist crosses into unknown territory, especially in time-travel stories. However, there are no time machines or magical devices that propel Dana through time. She goes alone into a past that is horrifically brutal, especially to a black woman. The powerlessness of being unable to help someone from being whipped or beaten and the ever-present danger of being a victim of violence and rape bring slavery's evils into sharp focus.

The major section headings thus far ground the story with elemental titles: River and Fire. On the surface, the headings connect with a particular incident involving Rufus. He nearly drowns in the river and sets fire to his curtains, which could have led to the destruction of his home and life. On a metaphoric level, the water does not cleanse or baptize Rufus spiritually; he needs bodily saving, which Dana, a family member from the future, provides. Likewise, the fire calls to Dana like a beacon she must snuff out in order to help Rufus. The literal and metaphoric bond of these two characters is set up. They are bound across time, although neither readers nor the characters know why.

The theme of kinship ties is expressed in these chapters. Dana recognizes Alice as her ancestor, but her tie to Alice has an adverse effect; because Dana looks like Alice's mother, the patrol chases her and attempts to rape her.

The symbol of home appears at the end of this section. Dana says that she needs Kevin to be there "to come home to" when she returns from time traveling. Similarly, Kevin says he needs Dana to return to him. Dana's home in California with Kevin represents a return to the known world and a place of safety, much more of a refuge than the Greenwood house turns out to be.

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