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Literature / Kindred

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Kindred is a novel by American writer Octavia E. Butler that incorporates time travel and is modeled on slave narratives. First published in 1979, it is still widely popular. It has been frequently chosen as a text for community-wide reading programs and book organizations, as well as being a common choice for high school and college courses.

The book is the first-person account of a young African-American woman writer, Dana, who finds herself being shunted in time between her Los Angeles, California home in 1976 and a pre-Civil War Maryland plantation. There she meets her ancestors: a proud black freewoman and a white planter who has forced her into slavery and concubinage. As Dana's stays in the past become longer, the young woman becomes intimately entangled with the plantation community. She makes hard choices to survive slavery and to ensure her return to her own time.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Age-Gap Romance: Dana's, The Protagonist, husband is 12 years older than her.
  • An Arm and a Leg: The prologue starts with Dana in the hospital after she mysteriously lost her arm. It's revealed she lost her arm because it was trapped in the wall after her last trip to the past.
  • Black Gal on White Guy Drama: Dana and Kevin because see Maligned Mixed Marriage below.
  • But Not Too Black: Only Dana's aunt favors the Dana's and Kevin's marriage, as it would mean that her niece's children would have lighter skin.
  • *Click* Hello: Dana meets Tom Weylin this way after she saves his son, Rufus.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The first sign that Dana has traveled through time as well as through space is Rufus' casual use of the N-word and his innocent confusion when Dana gets offended by it.
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  • Double Consciousness: Dana is a 1970s black woman transported back to the antebellum south, where she has to masquerade as a slave, causing a lot of conflict between her 'liberated' self and the demeanor she has to adopt to survive as a slave.
  • Entitled to Have You: Rufus to Alice, his childhood friend and Dana's ancestor, and Dana.
  • Foil: Kevin Franklin, a relatively progressive white man who married a black woman despite the objections of his family, to Rufus, an inconsistent power-drunk slave owner and the father of one of Dana’s ancestors.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Both of Dana's and Kevin's families opposed the marriage due to racial bias. While Kevin's reactionary sister is prejudiced against African Americans, Dana's uncle abhors the idea of a white man eventually inheriting his property. Kevin and Dana marry without any family present.
  • No Equal-Opportunity Time Travel: The novel covers the perils of time traveling while black — the black protagonist goes to 19th-century Maryland to meet her ancestors, one of whom is a white slave owner. Drama ensues.
  • San Dimas Time: Whenever the protagonist is dragged back in time to save Rufus, the time that passes in the present before her return is compressed but proportional to how long she spends in the past. When, for example, she spends a few minutes in the past, she disappears in the present for a mere second or two, but when she accidentally leaves her husband in the past, she spends three weeks in the present before going back and learning that her husband has been stranded for over five years.
  • Speculative Fiction: Kindred is often seen as either science fiction (due to the Time Travel, despite the fact that no explanation is ever given) or African-American fiction (because it's about American slavery), and thus Lit Fic. Butler herself saw it as fantasy.
  • Sympathetic Slave Owner: Deconstructed when the present-day black protagonist Dana is pulled back in time to meet Rufus, the son of a plantation owner in Antebellum America, at different times in his life. As he ages, his regard for her as a person is superseded by his sense of entitlement to her as a possession (even though he has no legal claim to her), even while he earnestly believes that his occasional kindnesses make up for him laying claim to her entire life and even make her privileged.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside:
    • Dana's flashbacks last anywhere from a day to eight months, but in the present she's only gone for a few hours at most.
    • Kevin, her husband, gets left behind in the past. Dana spends a few weeks in the present waiting for a chance to go back and rescue him, and when she finally does, he's spent five years in the past.


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