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Kindred | Study Guide

Octavia Butler

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The River

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

Kindred | The River | Summary



It is June 9, 1976, Dana's 26th birthday. As she and Kevin, who is suffering from writer's block, unpack books in their new house in Altadena, California, a few miles from Los Angeles, a dizzy spell overcomes Dana. Kevin vanishes from her sight, and she finds herself kneeling on the grass beside a river in which a child is flailing and screaming. Dana realizes the child is possibly drowning, so she wades into the water just as the child, a red-haired boy about five years old, loses consciousness. Dana pulls the boy to shore, where a red-haired woman stands. As Dana resuscitates the boy, the woman pounds on her back with her fists, accusing Dana of trying to kill the child. The boy begins at first to breathe, then to scream and cry for his mother, who comforts him and calls him Rufus. An angry man shows up and demands to know what happened. He points a rifle at Dana and clicks the safety on the gun. Dana, looking into the barrel of the rifle and believing she is about to die, grows dizzy again, and the scene vanishes. Dana is back in her apartment, but not in the same spot. She shivers, soaking wet and muddy. Kevin finds a towel for Dana and tells her she disappeared for a few seconds, but Dana tells him that is impossible—that she must have been away longer. They discuss what may have happened as Dana explains in detail how she saved the drowning boy. Kevin tries to sort out the facts. He suggests that maybe Dana hallucinated, but he also admits he saw her disappear and can't explain why she's muddy and wet. Dana tries to let the memory fade away but is very afraid it will happen again. Like a victim of a trauma, she no longer feels safe.


The title of this section, "The River," is the first of a series of titles that represent threats to Rufus. These threats are what draw Dana back into the past.

"The River" begins with an urgent situation. Readers may grapple, as Dana does, with what is happening to her and why. The theme of violence is conveyed through the gun being pointed at Dana by a male figure. In addition, another major theme of the novel is presented: power over versus power under. Dana is under someone or something else's power. She cannot explain what is happening to her and is apparently powerless to stop the occurrence. While readers may think she gains power by saving a boy's life, that power is stripped away by the man with the gun. In an interesting twist, it is her powerlessness to control what is happening to her that saves her from being under this armed man's power.

After this strange experience, Dana says that she does not feel safe any longer. This foreshadows the place to which she returns when she vanishes again: a place and time in which she, as a black woman, is unprotected and unsafe.

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