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Octavia Butler’s Kindred - Time Travel, Racism and Love

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Time Travel, Racism and Love

Octavia Butler’s Kindred details the journey of a black woman in the 1970’s travelling back in forth in time to nineteenth century Maryland, a place in which slavery was legal at the time. The concept of this book is farfetched to begin with; the whole idea of time travel being something that is still considered impossible by today’s means. That being said, the whole purpose of using time travel is to compare the two different eras to show how much progress has been made and to also show that a lot of the injustices from that time still prevailed when the book was written. Using two time periods not only allows the reader to use Kevin and Dana as context for a somewhat modern relationship, but also helps draw comparisons between the two of them and also Rufus and Dana.

The relationship between Kevin and Dana seems unhealthy at times, much like Rufus and Alice’s relationship. It seems odd looking back to the 1970’s and hearing about prejudices between interracial marriages considering how recent it was. Hearing about how Carol looked down upon her brother’s relationship with Dana shows that not much had changed between 1815 and 1976 (Butler 110). The public eye didn’t take kindly to people of different races becoming involved on that level. A great deal of progress has been made since this book was written though; in today’s society there is very little disapproval of mixed race relationships.

A great deal of comparisons can be drawn between the way Kevin and Rufus both treat the women they love. Both men abided by the general rules of the time; Kevin fought it at first by asking Dana to sleep with him while at the Weylin’s but after time he gave in and showed glimpses of Rufus’ thinking in his personality (Butler 82). Rufus on the other hand seemed compassionate (although somewhat ignorant) as a child. He then became harsh as he developed feelings for Alice. He had no


issue physically punishing the slaves or viewing their lives as less significant than his own.

It seems as though Dana and Kevin’s relationship really impacted Rufus’s way of thinking. When Dana and Rufus first meet, his tendencies would lead the reader to believe that he would never end up in love with Alice. He seems to be at a point where he still has the innocent outlook of a child but has also been engrained with his parents’ sense of superiority and disrespect for the slaves’ lives. It seems as though Kevin becomes a role model for him at a young age and partially shaped him into the man he grew up to be. He grew up seeing his father have illegitimate children with the slaves. Kevin on the other hand was loyal to Dana and had genuine feelings for her. Not to mention that the relationship between the two of them was the first time Rufus had seen a white man in love with a black woman. A public interracial relationship was unheard of at the time. Seeing this occur is most likely what started his interest in Alice; he fell in love and almost tried to mimic Kevin and Dana’s relationship. The difference is that Alice did not love him back and this caused Rufus’ bad side to come out more often. He resorted to raping her because she would not have a consensual relationship with him, he failed to realize that he could do everything except make Alice love him back. He buys her when she was enslaved after helping Isaac escape in attempt to keep her close to him.

Rufus makes evcry attempt he possibly can to keep Alice with him; and seems to get some sort of enjoyment from having power over those not powerful enough to defend themselves. He also seems to not understand why Alice won’t willingly be with him, he thinks that his power and authority should entitle him to whatever he wants. So when Alice rejects him, it causes an overwhelming desire to have her.

Reading this book makes the reader realize that while so much has changed since the Weylin’s time, only the times have changed, not the people. Rufus adjusting to Kevin’s point of view and vice


versa shows that it is more so the thinking of group rather than the individual that affects the way people act towards others. The biggest difference between Kevin’s relationship with Dana and Rufus’ with Alice is that the Kevin doesn’t force himself upon Dana or try and use his status to be with her. There is genuine love between the two of them, but it is much more of a one way street with Rufus and Alice. Given that Rufus owned Alice, it almost comes as a surprise when they don’t in fact end up with each other. From the beginning of their relationship, it is evident that Alice has no interest in Rufus; but also surprising that she doesn’t give in to him.

An underlying theme is in this novel is lack of attention to women’s rights in the early nineteenth century. The least significant case being Margaret Weylin, she had no real power or authority outside of the house; but at the same time it’s easy to see that her life was not too troubled. It seemed as though her biggest frustration was her husband’s lack of commitment to the relationship, she resented him and often took it out on his illegitimate children.

Dana faced discrimination as well, the context of which shows what has changed between the two time periods. She not only faced



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