Kindred (novel)

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OctaviaEButler Kindred.jpg
First edition
Author Octavia Butler
Translator French
Cover artist Larry Schwinger
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
June 1979
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 264 pp
ISBN 0-385-15059-8
OCLC 4835229
Dewey Decimal 813/.5/4
LC Class PZ4.B98674 Ki PS3552.U827

Kindred is a 1979 novel by Octavia Butler. While most of Butler's work is classified as science fiction, Kindred is often shelved in literature or African-American literature and Butler categorized the work as "a kind of grim fantasy".[1]

The novel tells the story of Edana (Dana) Franklin, an African-American woman living in 1976 Altadena, California who, on her twenty-sixth birthday, begins the first of six involuntary journeys back in time to Maryland's Eastern Shore in the antebellum South. She soon finds out that she has been unconsciously summoned (through means that are never fully explained) by Rufus Weylin, a young white boy who is the son of a slave owner, Tom Weylin, and her distant ancestor. Rufus calls for Dana whenever he feels his life is in danger, from the time he is a child through to adulthood, forcing Dana to rescue him from the perceived immediate threat. But the cost is dear: Dana must also guarantee her own future survival by learning to exist on the plantation as a slave, including taking steps to ensure that one of her black ancestors on the plantation, Alice, the daughter of a free woman, has a child with Rufus, who will become Dana's direct ancestor.

Plot summary[edit]

On June 9, 1976, it is the twenty-sixth birthday of Dana, a young African-American woman. She and Kevin, her husband, move into their new apartment in California. Dana does the majority of the unpacking and settling in; Kevin focuses on his office and then stops helping. Dana gets dizzy, and her surroundings fade away. When she comes to, she finds herself in the early 19th century in Maryland. A young white boy named Rufus is struggling in a river. Dana wades in after him, but he is unconscious by the time she reaches him. She drags him to the shore and resuscitates him. Tom Weylin, Rufus’s father, arrives and points a gun at Dana, terrifying her. Following another dizzy spell, she reappears in her apartment in 1976.

Several minutes later, Dana again gets dizzy and disappears. This time, she is whisked back to 1815. Rufus, now a few years older, watches in horror as his bedroom drapes burn. He had set fire to them because he was angry with his father for beating him after he stole a dollar from his father's desk. Dana puts out the fire, talks to Rufus, and escapes from the house before the senior Weylin finds out she is there. She runs to the home of Alice Greenwood and her mother, free blacks who Dana suspects may be her ancestors. A group of young white men smash down the Greenwoods’ door, drag out Alice’s mother's husband, who is a slave, and beat him. They also beat Alice’s mother. After the men leave, Dana comes out of hiding and helps Alice’s mother. Dana steps outside, and a returning white man finds her, beats her, and attempts to rape her. Dana fears for her life. Following another dizzy spell, she returns home to her own time.

The next time Dana time travels, Kevin comes with her by holding onto her. Back at the Weylins’, Rufus has fallen out of a tree and broken his leg. Nigel, a young black boy, runs for help, and Weylin comes with his slave Luke. Rufus will not let Dana leave, so everyone returns to the house together. Kevin and Dana stay on the plantation for several weeks and help educate Rufus. But when Dana gets caught teaching Nigel to read, Weylin whips her. Dana returns to 1976, but Kevin does not arrive in time to go with her.

After eight days at home, Dana time travels back and finds that Kevin has left the Maryland area and that Rufus has raped Alice Greenwood. Alice’s husband, Isaac, a slave, is beating Rufus badly. Dana convinces Isaac not to kill Rufus, and Alice and Isaac run away while Dana gets Rufus home. She stays in Maryland for two months. Although Rufus lies about how he got injured, Alice and Isaac are caught. Alice is beaten and ravaged by dogs. As punishment for helping Isaac escape, Alice is enslaved. Rufus, who is in love with Alice, buys her. He forces Dana to convince Alice to sleep with him after her body has recovered. After Rufus fails to mail Dana's letters to Kevin, Dana attempts to run away. She is whipped so badly that she becomes frightened and loses the will to run away again. Kevin shows up, as Weylin had written to him, and the couple attempts to escape. Rufus catches them on the road and shoots at them, but they manage to time travel together back to the 1970s.

After a few days, Dana time travels alone to Maryland and finds Rufus very drunk and lying facedown in a puddle. Weylin refuses to get a doctor. Over the course of many days, Dana nurses Rufus back to health. Rufus remains weak for weeks. Weylin has a heart attack, and Dana is unable to save him. Rufus blames her for his father’s death and forces her to work in the fields until she collapses.
Rufus is, however, much harsher with Alice than he is with Dana. Alice is jealous of the kindness with which Rufus treats Dana. Alice gives birth to her second child with Rufus, Hagar, who is Dana’s direct ancestor. She tells Dana that she plans to run away as soon as she can. She fears that she is getting too used to Rufus, that she doesn’t hate him enough anymore. Weylin’s wife, Margaret, returns and Dana is forced to care for her. Rufus sells off some slaves, including Tess, his father’s former concubine. He also sells Sam, a field hand, as punishment for flirting with Dana. When Dana tries to interfere, Rufus hits her. She slits her wrists in an effort to time travel and is successful.

Dana is back at home for many days. She and Kevin quarrel a little about Rufus. Kevin is jealous of his relationship with Dana, which she finds ridiculous. When Dana returns to the plantation, she finds that Alice has attempted to run away. To retaliate, Rufus told her that he sold her children, although he only sent them off to live with his aunt in Baltimore. Alice is sick with grief and kills herself. Racked with guilt and anger about Alice’s death, Rufus nearly follows her in committing suicide. He keeps Dana at his side almost constantly. One day, he tells her that she is so like Alice he cannot stand it. He catches her by the wrists, and Dana struggles free. She goes to the attic, planning to slit her wrists in order to get home, but Rufus follows her and attempts to rape her. Dana stabs him twice with her knife, killing him. She returns home immediately. Her arm is severed and crushed in the spot where Rufus was holding it. According to Octavia Butler in a later autobiographical book, Rufus's body was later found in the walls.[1]

Time travel[edit]

On each occasion that Dana travels back in time, her stay on the plantation becomes longer: though she is only gone from the present initially ranging from a period of 15 seconds, to several minutes to finally, several hours, she is stuck in the past for first some minutes, then days and months. Dana goes back in time when circumstances surrounding Rufus' survival dictate it, as perceived by him; her travels are also constrained to returning to the Weylin plantation, and not other venues. Conversely, Dana's only means of returning to the present is when she is sufficiently frightened and believes herself to be in danger of dying. It is only after she kills Rufus towards novel's end that her travels cease, but not without a price: on her last trip back to the present, she re-materializes in 1976 with her left arm embedded in the plaster wall of her house. The arm is later amputated to the elbow. Dana also is able to transport objects and even people back in time with her, as is shown when she transports a denim bag of useful items (including a knife, a change of clothes, money, toiletries, and paper) tied around her waist with her, and her husband, Kevin, when he grabs onto her before she vanishes on her third trip, and falls on her during their return later in the novel.

Author's quotes[edit]

"I was trying to get people to feel slavery," Butler said in a 2004 interview. "I was trying to get across the kind of emotional and psychological stones that slavery threw at people."[1] In another interview, she said, "I think people really need to think what it's like to have all of society arrayed against you."[2]

The book is set on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Butler said she chose the setting "because I wanted my character to have a legitimate hope of escape," and because two famous African Americans, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, had been enslaved there.[3]


  1. ^ a b c Snider, John C. (June 2004). "Interview: Octavia E. Butler". SciFiDimensions. Retrieved 4 December 2013. 
  2. ^ Marshall, John (February 2006). "Octavia Butler, 1947-2006: Sci-fi writer a gifted pioneer in white, male domain". Seattle P-I. Retrieved 4 December 2013. 
  3. ^ "If All 2003: A Conversation with Octavia Butler". Writers & Books. 2003. Retrieved 4 December 2013. 

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