In ‘Kindred’, Octavia Butler recounts Dana Franklin’s experience as she travels in time from 1976 to 1815 and back. Through the prism of time travel and the sharp contrast between present and future, the reader manages to see the tragic time of slavery. Diana has to survive in a racist and sexist society; the consequences of these events manifest for Dana, and her experiences of physical abuse and emotional manipulation have a powerful effect on her.
Racial and Sexist Issues in the 19th Century
To illustrate the complexity and horror of the slave system, the novel’s author puts Dana in a situation of a difficult moral choice. The interaction of history and morality is revealed through the need for Dana to save Rufus since, in the event of his death, Dana would never have been able to be born. The heroine declares that she did not dare to test the paradox: if others have to live for her to survive, they must stay alive (Butler 29). By placing Dana in this dilemma, Butler can illustrate a profound and thorny entanglement in the heart of Southern Plantation slavery. The forms of violence described in the novel are diverse, which makes up a complete picture of the failure of the slave system (Priyadi and Taufiq 51). One of the methods Butler uses to illustrate the 19th-century society is the Dana involvement in slavery and violence, particularly violence against female slaves.
Dana sees that the slaves who were abused and treated had to endure without a murmur. She watched a black man being beaten for no apparent reason. Unfortunately, shortly after that, Dana experienced the physical torture firsthand. “Weylin pulled me a few feet and then pushed me hard. I thought Weylin wanted to kill me” (Butler 107). This is a harrowing experience and description, but it is crucial because now Dana was treated completely and unwaveringly like a slave. Butler’s surreal depiction of the event and Dana’s reaction add to the reality and horror of slavery and encourages the reader to feel it.
Dana witnesses not only manifestations of extreme racism but also sexism. Several rapes and the need for women to live on as if nothing had happened plunge Dana into shock. Moreover, women are obliged to cohabit with rapists and raise children born in these unions. Further, Dana herself experiences an attempted rape, which is impossible to put up with; the world order of the early 19th Century does not fit in her head. Faced with an extreme form of discrimination, Dana strengthens her views on the unacceptability of gender and racial prejudice.
Relationship Between Past and Future
The book’s epilogue shows the significant impact of past on the present and the future. Dana and her husband Kevin are ready to prove that the people she spent time with really existed. It encourages readers to look into their past, explore their generation tree, and remember the people they owe their lives to. Through anachronistic traumatic journeys in the present, Octavia Butler’s Kindred make symbolic and critical connections between past and present. Coming to a new house, Dana starts a new life and seems to be reborn, not constrained by her previous problems and grievances. The heroine’s past is necessary for her to realize herself in the present and move into the future. Understanding and accepting history, not even the most pleasant one, is essential.
The Power of Kinship
Although the heroine does not realize this from the very beginning, her life depends on her ancestor, representing the true power of kinship. Dana says that Rufus must survive, or she can no longer exist (Butler 29). At the novel’s climax, Dana is forced to kill Rufus to get out of the mistake of the past. Dana quickly sinks into the past, but it takes a lot of time and effort to rise to the surface, emphasizing that people do not control their birth and family affiliation but must fight when they want to change. People do not choose their relatives, but there is a power that can change everything in their hands. ‘Kindred’ turns out to be a skillfully orchestrated mix of the significant challenges people face on a personal and social level and reveals the connection between kinship and survival.
Butler emphasizes the importance of family ties in the past and the present. When Dana was about to get married, she sought the approval of her aunt and uncle. They did not want to see her future with a white man; however, she tried to get their understanding. With this scene, Butler wanted to show that all people want to have family ties and feel the support of their loved ones. Dana knew that her relatives would disagree with her partnership with Kevin, but she tried to contact them. Thus, the author wanted readers to evaluate their actions and realize that the family is the most important thing. However, racial beliefs turned out to be more critical than Dana’s happiness for her relatives, and Butler does not want people to repeat the same mistake.
The Right to Choose
Butler wants people to believe in themselves; with courage, people can survive and get out of a predicament. In ‘Kindred,’ all problems are exalted to a struggle for survival. Once in terrible conditions, Dana does not agree with them; she tries to escape and return home. This situation indicates that she is not ready to accept the position in which she was placed. The author offers the reader a choice: become part of the world of slaves or create a new one, a community that will fight until it wins. The character decides to use all her power to avoid being treated like property. Her example encourages all women to do everything possible to ensure that they and their families are free from any adverse outside influence. It gives a positive message to people who face discrimination in modern times.
Gender and Race Issues: Linking the Past and the Present
Despite the appalling condition of slaves in the 19th Century, modern society does not fully understand the wrongness of discrimination based on race and gender. In 1976, Dana and Kevin faced family disapproval because he was white and she was black. Almost 50 years have passed since the events described in the novel, and modern society actively fights against prejudice. Unfortunately, black women of the 21st Century still often face discrimination. However, the initiatives of activists and the widespread dissemination of the idea of equality contribute to the struggle and give hope that the situation will be better in the future.
The novel draws readers’ attention to the problem of inequality, racial and gender discrimination. The book aims to make readers feel and understand what people experience in an oppressed situation. Butler sets out to invent new ways of behaving, free from old-fashioned repressive mechanisms, and build a new, more relational world, where the line between enslaver and enslaved is blurred in a genuinely symbiotic relationship (Czerniakowski 139). Butler’s central message is that racial discrimination and slavery made people suffer and ruined their lives. Dana realizes that most people in a slave society know more about actual violence than contemporary screenwriters ever do (Butler, 48). ‘Kindred’ is written to influence readers, to set them up for a struggle, no matter how difficult it is. Butler wanted to enlighten her readers and make them remember how their ancestors suffered as they lost their humanity and learned how to survive. According to Dana, even the cruel slave owners were not terrible people; their actions were so because society accepted them. Butler urges modern people not to repeat past mistakes and eliminate racial and gender discrimination.
Butler’s novel ‘Kindred,’ through the prism of time travel, draws attention to the problems of racial and gender discrimination. The work raises themes of the importance of family ties, acceptance of one’s past, and upholding the right to free choice. The main character Dana goes through all the challenges and changes the course of the story, and becomes a strong woman. Slaves in the past were deprived of the opportunity to choose their destiny; still, modern people have such an opportunity, so they must fight for the world without any form of discrimination.
Butler, Octavia E.. Kindred. United States, Beacon Press, 2004.
Czerniakowski, Maciej. “Posthuman Transgression of Boundaries in Octavia Butler’s Kindred.” Southeast Asian Journal of English Language Studies, 27(1): 2021, 129-141. Web.
Priyadi, Sherina Ananda, and Taufiq Effendi. “Analysis of racism depicted in Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred novel.” LADU: Journal of Languages and Education 2(2): 2022, 47-52. Web.