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Essay about Octavia Butler Kindred Themes

Octavia Butler, author of the novel Kindred, focuses on the main issues surrounding race and gender, and their effects on the experiences the characters in the story as they face slavery. The novel focuses on how the system of slavery shapes its central characters, emphasizing society’s power to effect a change in identities through certain race and gender. The construction of the concept of “race” and its connections to slavery are central themes in Butler’s novel.

Butler uses the work of time travel in the novel to emphasize the preservation of past racial discrimination and its continuous display in present time. The story begins in 1976 with an interracial couple moving into their new Southern California apartment. Dana, the protagonist and narrator of the novel, is married to Kevin Franklin, who is presented as a relatively progressive white man for marrying a black woman, despite the objections of his family. In presenting an interracial relationship, establishing the story’s core idea, Kindred challenges the traditional mindset associated with race.

The disapproving actions of characters in the past and the present towards Dana and Kevin’s integrated relationship represents the inseparability of whites and blacks in America and highlights the traditional racism presented in both communities. Dana first experiences time travel as a result of exhaustion from the move. As her mind fades away, she comes to find herself awakened on a shore bank in Maryland, sometime around the early 1800’s. Dana notices a young white boy struggling in the river, and after dragging him to shore, she comes face to face with a man pointing a gun at her-Tom Weylin-the boy’s father.

Terrified, Dana faints and awakes again back in her 1976 California apartment. Dana disappears again, and this time she awakes in 1815. The young boy before, Rufus, is now a few years old and in danger of a fire in his bedroom. In putting out the fire Dana wonders about the incident, “the boy already knew more about revenge than I did. What kind of man was he going to grow up into? ” Rufus set his draperies on fire in retaliation against his father, Weylin, who whipped him for stealing a dollar.

The brutality of the punishment of whipping a child as one does his slaves was striking to Dana. In realizing Rufus comes from a violent world, and he being raised to be a violent slave master. Dana must take care of Rufus in an attempt to better his ways and morals, in order to try and save the future existence of her family, as he will one day father her ancestors. Soon after, Dana escapes from the Weylin’s house to the home of Alice Greenwood and her mother, who both are free African Americans.

While at the Greenwood residence, a group of young white men break through the door, and drag lice’s husband, who is a slave, out and beat him, as well as Alice’s mother. Dana describes the experience; “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. ” As Dana attempts to help Alice’s mother, a white man returns to the scene, now beating Dana and attempting to rape her. Fearing for her life, Dana faints and wakes back up in her own time. Butler stresses throughout the novel the consistency of racial issues as a theme that will take place in Dana’s life as she travels back in time to Maryland. The color of Dana’s skin is a key factor in the experiences she faces, despite her qualities of intelligence, youth and independence.

In the eyes of both black and white characters, her race defines her, as her fate of servitude at the Weylin’s plantation becomes a reality. The next experience of time travel in the novel happens when Kevin, Dana’s husband, travels back with her. The theme of gender and race both are demonstrated here with Kevin’s initial belief that living during the slavery era would be a enjoyable experience. This type of mindset reveals a lack of racial knowledge and insensitivity granted by his inherited position in society as a white man who has lived a life free from oppression.

The portrayal of Dana’s white husband, Kevin, serves to examine the concept of racial and gender privilege. In the present, Kevin seems unconscious of the benefits he has because of his skin color. Once he goes to the past, however, he must not just resist accepting slavery as the normal state of affairs, also removing himself from the unrestricted power white males experienced as a privilege. The couple awakes this time at the Weylin’s plantation, where Rufus has fallen out of a tree and has broken his leg. Rufus refuses to let Dana leave, so everyone returns to the master’s house together.

Kevin and Dana stay on the plantation for several weeks and help to educate Rufus, but when Dana is caught teaching Nigel, another slave on the plantation, how to read, Weylin whips her, which results in Dana’s returns to 1976; however, Kevin doesn’t make it to her in time to also travel back with her. A few days later, Dana returns back in time to find that Kevin has left Maryland, and Rufus has raped Alice Greenwood. Dana comes to find Isaac, Alice’s husband and a slave, beating Rufus very badly for the act he committed against his wife.

She convinces Isaac not to kill Rufus, and rather, Alice and Isaac run away while Dana gets Rufus home. Two months pass, and Alice and Isaac are caught. Alice is beaten and ravaged by dogs as punishment for helping Isaac escape, and Alice is now made a slave. Rufus, who is in love with Alice, purchases her, and forces Dana to convince Alice to sleep with him. The burden of slavery life on the plantation causes Dana to make an attempt to run away. Her attempt fails, and as a result, she receives a brutal whipping. Butler fills her novel with violent episodes in an effort to emphasize the unescapable error that African America slaves endured during the 1800’s.

The threat of violence hinders all of the character’s decisions, as well as, shapes their personalities. The white characters in the novel, predominately the males, believe it is their born right and duty to inflict harm on the African American slaves they control, and in which they view as nothing more than a piece of property. This fear of violence provides the African American characters the knowledge that any act of rebelliousness, independence, or cleverness will result in a wide degree of punishment.

Rufus becomes the plantation master after his father’s death, which allows him to assert even more racial superiority and abuse on the African Americans in the novel, including an increase in sexual abuse towards Alice. As part of his power and privilege as a white man, he chooses to treat Alice much harsher than he did before. Rufus even chooses to sell Sam, one of the field hands, as punishment for flirting with Dana. When Dana tries to interfere, Rufus hits her; Dana then slits her wrists in an effort to time travel back home.

When Dana returns to the plantation, she finds that Alice has attempted to run away. In retaliation of her escape, Rufus lies and tells her that he sold her children. Alice is so sick with grief, she eventually determines suicide is her only escape and kills herself. Full of guilt and anger about Alice’s death, Rufus nearly kills himself, but then resorts to shifting his attention towards Dana and her likeness to Alice. Rufus aggressively grabs Dana her by the wrists, but she is able to break free of his grip, running and hiding in the attic of the house.

The development of Rufus character from a relatively decent young boy, with a close connection to Dana, demonstrates here how the privilege of race and gender transform him into a mindless racist, as he attempts to rape Dana. In the struggle, Dana is able to stab and kill Rufus. The central theme involving the relationship between both race and gender roles of the characters in the story connects to the ability associated with privilege and power.

This theme can be presented by analyzing Rufus’s and Kevin’s xperiences as white males, compared to Dana’s and Alice’s experience as African American women in a white, male dominated world. Dana’s experiences in the antebellum South particularly makes it clear that the gender and racial privileges enjoyed by such vastly different white men as Rufus and Kevin. Factors of race and gender are central to the oppression and exploitation Dana experiences. The main effect slavery has is a change to Dana’s identity. Dana’s prolonged stay in the past reframes her modern attitude.

Butler’s depiction of Dana’s principal character is an independent, self-possessed, educated African American woman who attempts to challenge racist and sexist objectification of blacks and women. As Dana comes to spend more and more time in the past, she begins to accept the way others from the past view her as she struggles to maintain her identity as a free African American woman in a world in which women and all African Americans in general are completely submissive to the cruel, dominate treatments of white masters.

Although she initially goes into the past as a modern, emancipated black woman, who struggles against being viewed as a slave and the hardships of being both black and female, gradually she comes to identify with how others view her, so much that when she goes back to the Weylin plantation towards the end of the novel, she comes to think of it as being home. “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. ” Butler suggests that accepting the role of being enslaved as a African American woman is more than just a defense mechanism for Dana, it is something that is forced by the way others establish ones identity. In Maryland, each person sees Dana as a black female slave with no rights and no privileges. The more time Dana spends in the past, the more she views herself in these same terms, accepting the identity that others have applied to her.

Butler stresses throughout the novel the consistency of racial issues as a theme that will take place in Dana’s life, as well as, in the lives of the other African Americans on the Weylin plantation. It’s hard enough for Dana to travel back to a period of slavery as an African American, but it’s even harder for her to do it as a female African American. Every slave on the plantation faces the threat of being whipped or beaten, the women just as the males, but Dana also has to deal with the constant threat of sexual violence, too.

On two occasions in the story she has to fight off a white rapist, and at other times, she has to convince Alice to give into Rufus Weylin’s sexual demands. In this sense, Dana is in double danger in Kindred because of her race and her gender. Dana and A both face sexual violence multiple times throughout the story. In the story Dana first witnesses the depth of sexual violence on the plantation, “I had helped Tess with the washing several time, had done as much of it as I could myself recently because Weylin had casually begun taking her to bed, and had hurt her.

Apparently, she paid her debts. ” This demonstrates that the privilege of race is not the only factor allowing Tom Weylin power over his female slaves. The male slaves, although similarly face punishments such as being beaten or whipped, or as in the case of Sam James, one of the field hands, who is separated from his family and sold off for simply speaking to Dana. Nigel, another slave on the Weylin plantation, talks about the difficulties of being a slave, then being a parent, “it’s good to have children… Good to have sons. But it’s so hard to see them be slaves.

Nigel feels joy with being a father, but he also feels pain in knowing that his children will grow up to be slaves with no opportunity of a better life. Even after killing Rufus and eliminating the slave master, Dana finds concern in the fate of the slaves still remaining on the Weylin plantation. She knows the remaining slaves will be facing hardships moving to a new plantation, under a new master and confirms her worries when she checks an old newspaper and sees a listing of Rufus’s slaves all being sold. “And in later papers, notice of the sale of the slaves from Mr. Rufus Weylin’s estate.

These slaves were listed by their first names with their approximate ages and their skills given. ” She figured their treatment as slaves probably got a lot worse from that point on, and the guilt of putting them in that situation stayed with her. Although, “Sarah was listed, but Joe and Hagar were not. Everyone else was listed. Everyone. ” But relief was experienced in not seeing Joe and Hagar’s names, Alice’s children, as Dana liked to believe that they became free after Rufus died because she knew Hagar grew up to have a line of children that would one day lead to Dana.

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