In Octavia Butler’s Kindred, the protagonist Dana Franklin who lives in Los Angeles in 1976 is brought back into history during the early 19th century. She is brought back to the antebellum south into the state of Maryland by one of her ancestors, Rufus Weylin. However, Dana is a free black women living in 1976 and Rufus is a white slave owner in the south during a time of slavery.
During her time in 1976, Dana is a writer who is married to Kevin Franklin who is white and also a writer. Kevin travels in time with Dana for one of her trips to Maryland during the early 1800’s. However, Kevin’s experience in the south is much different than Dana’s due to the fact that he is an educated white man and Dana is an educated black female.
Kevin spends his time in the south at first on the same plantation as Dana, working as a teacher for the master’s son Rufus. Kevin teaches Rufus how to read and write while on the plantation and Dana spends her time working as a slave in the cookhouse and doing other things around the plantation that the other slaves were responsible for doing. However, Dana is brought back to 1976 without Kevin and Kevin spends the rest of his time in the 1800’s traveling, teaching slaves and helping slaves escape.
However, once Kevin is gone and Dana is back on the plantation she does not have Kevin to stick up for her. She spends time in the cookhouse with the other slaves but she also has other privileges that the other female slaves do not have. Dana and Rufus had a special friendship that Rufus did not have with any of the other slaves. Rufus liked it when Dana would read to him while he was sick. At first they had to keep this a secret from Rufus’ father but then Tom Weylin began to have some respect for Dana throughout the novel and he allowed her to read to Rufus and teach him how to write.
Although Dana was black she had other privileges over the other slaves due to the fact that she could write and read and that was something that Rufus and Master Tom were not so good at themselves so they were somewhat scared of her because she was a literate slave. Rufus and Dana had an understanding that Dana would not leave Rufus if he would not hurt her.
During the time that Dana spent in the south during the 1800’s she experienced things such as power, gender roles, and racial conflicts in ways that she was not subjected to in 1976. The power that landowners had over their slaves was obviously something she had never experienced and it was hard for her to deal with at first. Also the different gender roles of the males and females on the plantation and off the plantation were quite different than those in the 1800’s. However, most significantly different was the racial conflict that was going on. The whole idea of slavery and the different lifestyles the blacks had in the 1800’s compared to the lifestyle she lived in 1976.
When Dana returns with Kevin to the present day, she says that she, “never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.” How does this reflect the current attitudes about race and ethnicity? The fact that Dana would continually be brought back into slavery after she had lived most of her life as a free black women and she would instantly accept the roles of slavery during that time was shocking to her that she could do this. However, because she was in a time period that this is all they really know, and this is how they think things are suppose to be, their attitudes rubbed off on her and she did not know of any other way to act.
This reflects the current attitudes about race and ethnicity today because we too have been socially constructed to accept race and ethnicity for what we perceive that it is. We are taught through society that race is something that cannot be changed and we are led to believe that it is biological. Because we see race and ethnicity as something so deeply part of our culture, we don’t do anything to try to change it. We just go a long with what society leads us to believe. This is exactly what Dana was doing with slavery. She knew that it was wrong and that it would end eventually but she did not do anything about it and in some ways even accepted it and gave into slavery.
I really enjoyed reading this book a lot. It was a quick read and it was very different from anything else I have ever read before. I like the fact that the author took us back into time and allowed us to view slavery from a point of view outside of the time period that was actually experiencing it. Everything about the book was very relevant to what we have been reading and class and there were many connections in the book that I was able to make with other readings that we have done in class thus far.