Kindred: On Reality

“I had seen people beaten on television and in the movies. I had seen the too-red blood substitute streaked across their backs and heard their well-rehearsed screams. But I hadn’t lain nearby and smelled their sweat or heard them pleading and praying, shamed before their families and themselves. I was probably less prepared for the reality than the child crying not far from me. In fact, she and I were reacting very much alike. My face too was wet with tears. And my mind was darting from one thought to another, trying to tune out the whipping. At one point, this last cowardice even brought me something useful. A name for whites who rode through the night in the ante bellum South, breaking in doors and beating and otherwise torturing black people.” (pg. 36-37)

In this moment, Dana is witnessing her first true horrors of slavery in an unbearably real way. Among many other climatic moments in Octavia Butlers Kindred, this scene was a turning point for the entire story. This was no longer a story about time travel to save the lineage of a family; it was about an omnipresent terror that African-Americans lived with in the 1800s. It was about plantation life and the trappings of an ever so powerful society.

As Dana accepts the fact that she is fated to Rufus to somehow make sure that the lineage of her family is successful, it doesn’t keep her from wanting to return to her home in 1976. Unfortunately for Dana, her home is no longer a refuge, it’s a state of limbo. When she gets home, she is unable to appreciate it for what it is. She cannot go on about the daily life she had before her time travels, without thinking of the impact that plantation life has had on her.

“I felt as though I were losing my place here in my own time. Rufus’s time was a sharper, stronger reality. The work was harder, the smells and tastes were stronger, the danger was greater, the pain was worse . . . Rufus’s time demanded things of me that had never been demanded before, and it could easily kill me if I did not meet its demands. That was a stark, powerful reality that the gentle conveniences and luxuries of this house, of now, could not touch.” (pg. 191)

I was most surprised when Dana felt that she belonged on the plantation. It was almost horrifying to hear her say that the plantation seemed like more of a home foe her. But was it? Could the things of history make us feel more at home than reality can?

“I could recall walking along the narrow dirt road that ran past the Weylin house and seeing the house, shadowy in twilight, boxy and familiar . . . I could recall feeling relief at seeing the house, feeling that I had come home. And having to stop and correct myself, remind myself that I was in an alien, dangerous place.”

As a reader I could understand why Dana felt that the Weylin plantation was like a home for her. She felt like the plantation had given her a better taste of reality than anything else had. Whenever she was home in her present time, 1976, life puttered on routinely with nothing truly significant happening. Everyday routines held no struggle, adventure, or true purpose. Yet, every time Dana returned to the plantation the story came alive. When Dana accepted the fact that she would have to return to the plantation, she worried whether or not she would even survive. Even though in 1976 Dana had many more advantages over her ancestors, she believed herself to be less then they were because she lacked true strength and endurance to survive.  It showed how the everyday struggle to live was the most important thing a person could do. The things Dana witnessed and went through on the plantation were more than she could handle most of the time. Now, I’m not just talking about the whippings and hard work that Dana had to suffer through, it was also about the unbearding white man and the ways society conducted itself.

Although the book is an amazing art of non fiction, Kindred was not far removed from fiction. The story had so much to say about the way society is and was. It highlights things such as love, hate, slavery, society, and racial dilemmas that the world once faced, and still faces today. It is a humbling and renewing story that is will definitely read again and again.

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