In Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred, Butler positions her 26 year-old African-American protagonist, Dana, in a deeply unsettling situation: she is unconsciously summoned by her great ancestor Rufus Weylin, the white son of a slave holder. Her situation is unsettling because she is a woman from the 20th century, who is social inclined to her own agenda. However, by transporting Dana into the submissive role of the African-American woman during a period of slavery, her agenda is surrendered and she must endure the harsh reality of slavery.
Octavia E. Butler’s ultimate goals seems to want her audience to be unsettled and restless: she turns a modern, intelligent woman and throws her into a hostile environment, where her protagonist automatically faces discrimination and racism. The novel punctuates on the theme of freedom as a means to redeem both the North and the South. Butler’s work reminds me deeply of Chinua Achebe’s The Novelist as Teacher. Contextualization between these two novels occur in the victim mentality of African’s who have faced the gruesome cruelty of assimilation, where their cultural identity is stripped from them. Dana, who is socially conditioned to claiming certain inalienable rights, must suffer at the hand of the system of slavery.
Though Rufus is the son of a slave holder, and ultimately a product of his circumstance, Butler makes sure to include enough gray areas to remind the audience that human nature is full of different dimensions and levels. Alice, who Rufus has a child with, initially hates him, but worries that she is getting too used to him around. This represents the complexity of their relationship at its very core: can love and possession exist in compliment to one another, or is one doomed to consume the other? In the case of Rufus, his obsession and objectification of Alice, who has left him, is manifested in Dana’s resemblance to Alice. Though I condemn his behavior, the intent behind his actions is clear: his attempt at raping Dana shows his love and obsession and possession with Alice.
I loved the idea that, by killing Rufus, Dana is able to reclaim a social and political agenda. She stands up for herself, and successfully ends Rufus’ unconscious rein over her disposition. However, Butler decides to take a piece of Dana to represent the idea of consequence, that something that is gained means something will be eventually lost.
It is also important to realize that Dana’s method of returning to her own time period lies in her attempting to commit suicide, as if that is her only means to achieving her freedom. This part of Butler’s story is problematic as social commentary, albeit it is very effective. By having Dana choose to take her own life in exchange for her freedom, she is surrendering, and risking, her personal agenda to maintain her own dignity as an African-American “slave” woman and a woman in the 20th century. Dana’s choice to also not drastically alter the fabric of time is an expression of power because she chooses not to act rather than to act.