Kindred by Octavia Butler | Download Free Ebook
Octavia Butler's Kindred: A Time-Traveling Tale of Slavery and Survival
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel back in time and experience life as a slave in the antebellum South? If so, you might be interested in reading Kindred, a novel by Octavia Butler that combines science fiction, historical fiction, and autobiography to tell a compelling story of slavery and survival.
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What is Kindred about?
Kindred is a novel by Octavia Butler, published in 1979. It tells the story of Dana, a young black woman living in California in 1976, who suddenly finds herself transported to Maryland in 1815, where she encounters her ancestors: Rufus, a white slaveholder, and Alice, a black slave who is forced to bear his children. Dana realizes that she has been summoned by Rufus whenever he is in mortal danger, and that she must protect him in order to ensure her own existence. As she travels back and forth between the past and the present, she faces many challenges and dangers, both physical and psychological, as she tries to survive in a brutal and oppressive society.
Why is Kindred important?
Kindred is one of the most influential novels by Octavia Butler, who is widely regarded as one of the most important writers of science fiction and African American literature. Butler was the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the "Genius Grant", and won multiple awards for her works, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards. Kindred is also one of the most widely read and taught novels on the topic of slavery, as it offers a unique perspective on the history and legacy of slavery in America. By using time travel as a literary device, Butler allows her readers to experience slavery firsthand, through the eyes of a modern protagonist who shares their cultural background and values. By doing so, she challenges her readers to confront the realities and horrors of slavery, as well as its lasting impact on race relations, gender roles, family ties, and personal identity.
How does Kindred challenge the conventional slave narrative?
Kindred can be seen as a revision of the traditional slave narrative, a genre of autobiographical writing that emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries, in which former slaves recounted their experiences of enslavement and escape. Some of the most famous examples of this genre are The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. While Kindred shares some of the features and themes of the slave narrative, such as the quest for freedom, literacy, and selfhood, it also deviates from it in several ways. For instance, Kindred is not a linear, chronological account of a single life, but a complex, nonlinear, and multilayered story that spans different time periods and locations. Moreover, Kindred is not a realistic, factual, and objective representation of slavery, but a fictional, imaginative, and subjective exploration of slavery. Finally, Kindred is not a triumphant, heroic, and inspirational tale of escape and liberation, but a tragic, ambiguous, and disturbing tale of entrapment and compromise.
The Plot of Kindred
The Prologue: Dana's Mysterious Injury
The novel begins with a prologue that sets the tone and introduces the main conflict of the story. Dana, the narrator and protagonist, is in a hospital, recovering from a mysterious injury that has cost her an arm. She tells us that she lost her arm on her last trip home, implying that she has been traveling somewhere else. She also tells us that she had to convince the police that her husband Kevin, who is white, did not hurt her, implying that their interracial marriage is a source of suspicion and prejudice. She then hints at the cause of her injury: "I could remember being in two different times. And I could remember Rufus." This raises several questions that will be answered later in the novel: Who is Rufus? How did Dana travel in time? And how did she lose her arm?
The River: Dana's First Trip to the Antebellum South
The first chapter takes us back to June 9, 1976, Dana's twenty-sixth birthday. She and Kevin are moving into their new house in Altadena, California. As they are unpacking their books, Dana suddenly feels dizzy and nauseous. She blacks out and wakes up on the bank of a river in Maryland, in 1815. She sees a young boy drowning in the water and rescues him. She learns that his name is Rufus Weylin, the son of a plantation owner. She also learns that he has summoned her by calling her name when he was in danger. Before she can understand what is happening, she is confronted by Rufus's father, who points a gun at her. She feels sick again and returns to her own time.
The Fire: Dana Meets Alice and Kevin
The second chapter takes place on June 9-10, 1976. Dana barely has time to recover from her first trip when she is pulled back to the past again. This time she arrives at Rufus's plantation house, which is on fire. She helps Rufus and his mother escape from the flames. She meets Alice Greenwood, a free black girl who lives nearby with her parents. Alice tells Dana that the fire was started by Rufus himself, who was playing with matches. Dana realizes that Alice is her ancestor and that Rufus will eventually rape her and father her children. She also realizes that she must keep them alive until they do so. She tries to warn Alice to run away from Rufus, but Alice does not listen to her. Dana returns to the present when Rufus's father attacks her with a whip.
Dana tells Kevin about her time-traveling experiences and shows him the scars on her back from the whipping. Kevin believes her and decides to stay with her until they figure out what is going on. They pack some supplies and clothes that might help them blend in with the past. They also research Rufus's family history in the library and find out that he was born in 1803 and died in 1831.
The Fall: Dana and Kevin Get Stuck in the Past
The third chapter takes place on June 11-14, 1976, and May 8-10, 1819. Dana is drawn back to the past for the third time, and this time Kevin grabs her arm and goes with her. They arrive at Rufus's plantation, where they find him lying unconscious after being kicked by a horse. They take him to his room and treat his wounds. They pretend to be a married couple from New York who are looking for a place to settle. They are welcomed by Rufus's father, Tom Weylin, who offers them a room in exchange for their help with Rufus. Dana and Kevin try to adapt to the harsh conditions of slavery and plan their escape. They also try to help some of the enslaved people on the plantation, such as Nigel, a young boy who wants to learn how to read, and Sarah, the cook who has lost her children to slavery.
One day, Dana witnesses Tom Weylin whipping Alice's father for trying to run away with his family. She intervenes and gets whipped herself. Kevin tries to protect her but is stopped by Tom Weylin's overseer, Evan Fowler. Dana is taken to her room and nursed by Alice's mother, who tells her that Alice and her husband Isaac have been caught and sold to different owners. Dana realizes that she has to bring Alice and Rufus together somehow, or else she will not be born.
Dana recovers from her injuries and waits for Rufus to call her back to the present. She learns that Kevin has left the plantation to look for a way out. She also learns that Rufus has a crush on her and tries to avoid his advances. She decides to write a letter to Kevin and ask Rufus to mail it for her. Rufus agrees, but only if she agrees to stay with him until he recovers from his fever. Dana reluctantly agrees, hoping that Kevin will find her soon.
The Fight: Dana Faces Brutality and Betrayal
The fourth chapter takes place on May 10-11, 1819, and September 3-4, 1976. Dana wakes up in Rufus's room and finds out that he has burned her letter to Kevin. He tells her that he loves her and wants her to be his mistress. He also tells her that he has bought Alice from a slave trader and brought her to the plantation. He says that he will let Dana go if she helps him win Alice's love.
Dana is furious with Rufus for his betrayal and cruelty. She goes to see Alice, who is locked up in a cabin and badly beaten by Rufus. She tries to comfort her and convince her to cooperate with Rufus for her own sake. She also tells her that they are related and that she is from the future.
Dana returns to Rufus's room and confronts him about his actions. She tells him that he is a rapist and a monster, and that she hates him. She also tells him that she will never sleep with him or help him with Alice. Rufus gets angry and tries to force himself on her. Dana fights back and stabs him with a knife.
Dana feels dizzy and nauseous again. She blacks out and wakes up in her own time, in Kevin's arms. She finds out that she has been gone for five years, while Kevin has been stuck in the past for eight months. He tells her that he has been looking for her all over the country, posing as an abolitionist journalist. He also tells her that he has seen many horrors of slavery and racism, and that he is glad to be back with her.
The Storm: Dana Witnesses a Slave Rebellion
The fifth chapter takes place on September 4-5, 1976, and June 15-18, 1824. Dana barely has time to reunite with Kevin when she is pulled back to the past again. She arrives at Rufus's plantation during a stormy night. She sees Rufus lying on the ground, bleeding from a gunshot wound in his chest. He tells her that he has been shot by Isaac, Alice's husband, who has come back to rescue her.
Dana takes Rufus to his house and tries to save his life. She learns that Isaac and Alice have killed Evan Fowler and set fire to his house. They have also killed Tom Weylin, who tried to stop them. They have fled with their children, Joe and Hagar, who are also Dana's ancestors.
Dana hopes that Isaac and Alice will make it to freedom, but she soon finds out that they have been captured by a group of white patrollers. She witnesses the brutal punishment that they receive: Isaac is castrated, hanged, and burned; Alice is whipped, branded, and sold back to Rufus.
Dana is horrified by the violence and injustice that she sees. She also feels guilty for not being able to help Isaac and Alice, and for being the cause of their suffering. She wonders if she has any power or choice in her situation, or if she is just a pawn of fate.
The Rope: Dana's Final Confrontation with Rufus
The sixth chapter takes place on June 18-19, 1824, and July 4-5, 1976. Dana stays with Rufus until he recovers from his wound. She tries to persuade him to free some of the enslaved people on his plantation, such as Nigel and Carrie, who have married and had children. She also tries to improve the living conditions and treatment of the enslaved people. She hopes that Rufus will change for the better, but she soon realizes that he has become more like his father: cruel, greedy, and selfish.
Dana also has to deal with Alice, who has become depressed and suicidal after losing Isaac and her children. She tries to help her cope with her trauma and find some hope in her life. She also tries to protect her from Rufus's abuse and jealousy.
One day, Dana finds out that Alice has hanged herself in her cabin. She is devastated by her death and angry at Rufus for driving her to it. She goes to confront him and finds him in his room, holding a pistol. He tells her that he loves her and wants her to stay with him. He also tells her that he has sold Alice's children to a slave trader, and that he will sell all the other enslaved people if she tries to leave him.
Dana is shocked and disgusted by Rufus's words. She realizes that he is beyond redemption and that she has to escape from him. She grabs the pistol from his hand and points it at him. He laughs and dares her to shoot him. He says that he knows that she won't kill him, because she needs him to live.
Dana hesitates for a moment, but then she pulls the trigger. She shoots Rufus in the head, killing him instantly. She feels sick again and blacks out.
The Epilogue: Dana's Return to the Present
The epilogue takes place on July 5-6, 1976. Dana wakes up in her own time, in Kevin's arms. She finds out that she has lost her left arm, which was still holding Rufus when she returned. She says that it feels like Rufus took a part of her with him when he died.
Dana and Kevin decide to go back to Maryland and visit Rufus's plantation, which is now a historical site. They find out that Rufus had a son named Joe with another enslaved woman named Margey, after Alice's death. They also find out that Joe inherited the plantation after Rufus's death, and that he freed all the enslaved people on it.
Dana is relieved to know that her ancestors survived and that some of them gained their freedom. She is also curious to know more about their lives and stories. She says that she feels a connection with them, even though they are long gone.
Dana also reflects on her relationship with Rufus, which was complex and contradictory. She says that she hated him for what he did to Alice and the other enslaved people, but she also pitied him for what he became. She says that she felt sorry for him when he died, but she also felt free from him.
Dana concludes by saying that she does not understand why she was chosen to travel in time and experience slavery firsthand. She says that she does not know what she learned from it or what it meant for her life. She says that she only knows that it was a part of her history and a part of herself.
The Themes of Kindred
The Complexity of Racial Identity and Relations
The Role of Women in Slavery and Resistance
Another theme of Kindred is the role of women in slavery and resistance. By traveling back in time, Dana discovers how slavery affected the lives and identities of women, both black and white. She also discovers how women resisted slavery in different ways, both overt and covert.
As a black woman, Dana faces multiple forms of oppression and violence in the antebellum South. She is subjected to racism, sexism, and classism from both white and black men. She is constantly at risk of being raped, beaten, sold, or killed by her white masters. She is also expected to perform domestic and reproductive labor for them, as well as to obey their orders without question. She has no legal rights or protection, and no control over her own body or destiny.
As a modern woman, Dana also faces challenges and conflicts in adapting to the past. She has to hide her education, intelligence, and independence from the people around her. She has to pretend to be a submissive and illiterate slave in order to survive. She has to cope with the culture shock and trauma of witnessing slavery firsthand. She has to balance her loyalty to her husband Kevin with her loyalty to her ancestors. She has to deal with her complex feelings for Rufus, who is both her enemy and her kin.
Dana is not the only woman who struggles and resists in Kindred. Alice Greenwood, Dana's ancestor and Rufus's slave and mistress, is another example of a strong female character who suffers and fights back against slavery. Alice is a free black woman who is kidnapped and enslaved by Rufus after he kills her father. She is repeatedly raped, beaten, and humiliated by Rufus, who claims to love her but treats her as his property. She is separated from her husband Isaac and her children Joe and Hagar, who are sold to different owners. She tries to escape several times, but she is always caught and punished. She eventually commits suicide by hanging herself in her cabin.
Alice's suicide can be seen as an act of resistance against slavery. By killing herself, she asserts her agency and dignity as a human being. She refuses to let Rufus have any more power over her life or death. She also frees herself from the pain and misery that slavery has caused her.
Other women who resist slavery in Kindred include Sarah, the cook who secretly teaches Nigel how to read; Carrie, Nigel's wife who communicates through sign language; Margey, Rufus's second slave mistress who runs away with Joe; and Margaret Weylin, Rufus's mother who defies her husband's authority and helps Dana escape from his whip.
The Legacy of Slavery in Contemporary America
A final theme of Kindred is the legacy of slavery in contemporary America. By traveling back in time, Dana learns about the history and impact of slavery on American society and culture. She also learns about the connections and contradictions between the past and the present.
Dana realizes that slavery is not a distant or irrelevant phenomenon, but a living and lasting reality that shapes the lives of millions of Americans today. She realizes that slavery has left behind a legacy of racism, violence, inequality, trauma, and resistance that still affects black Americans today. She realizes that slavery has also influenced the development of American politics, economy, culture, and identity.
Dana also realizes that there are similarities and differences between the past and the present. She realizes that some things have changed for the better since the end of slavery: black Americans have gained civil rights, education, opportunities, and representation; interracial marriages are legal and accepted; science fiction is a popular and respected genre; etc. She also realizes that some things have not changed much or have gotten worse: black Americans still face discrimination, poverty, violence, and stereotypes; interracial marriages still face prejudice and hostility; science fiction still lacks diversity and inclusion; etc.
Summary of the main points
In conclusion, Kindred is a novel by Octavia Butler that combines science fiction, historical fiction, and autobiography to tell a compelling story of slavery and survival. The novel follows Dana, a young black woman living in California in 1976, who suddenly finds herself transported to Maryland in 1815, where she encounters her ancestors: Rufus, a white slaveholder, and Alice, a black slave who is forced to bear his children. Dana realizes that she has been summoned by Rufus whenever he is in mortal danger, and that she must protect him in order to ensure her own existence. As she travels back and forth between the past and the present, she faces many challenges and dangers, both physical and psychological, as she tries to survive in a brutal and oppressive society.
The novel explores several themes, such as the complexity of racial identity and relations, the power and peril of time travel, the role of women in slavery and resistance, and the legacy of slavery in contemporary America. The novel also challenges the conventional slave narrative by using time travel as a literary device, by creating a complex and contradictory relationship between Dana and Rufus, and by presenting a tragic, ambiguous, and disturbing tale of entrapment and compromise.
Evaluation of the novel's strengths and weaknesses
Kindred is widely regarded as one of the most influential novels by Octavia Butler, who is w