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Slavery in Octavia Butler's Novel Kindred

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When writing fiction novels; many authors of the last century tend to incorporate more than one genre, to explore different and intricate ways a message can be delivered. Octavia Butler’s novel Kindred, has a multifaceted analysis of different genres which help her express the overall message of the text. The protagonist of the book Dana; an African-American women, constantly travels back in time to a Plantation in the early 1800s, experiencing slavery firsthand. Kindred engages with a Time-travel narrative and how Dana must go into the past to make an impact to secure her future. In turn, the novel also delves into the ramifications of a Neo-slave narrative, and mirrors that genre completely. These genres work together to give Dana a life changing realization of what life is like to be a slave, and provides Dana self discovery on the impact of the past affecting the present.

Neo-slave narratives specifically rework accounts of racialized slavery in the Atlantic World from the 15th to the 19th centuries, often displaying the conditions and punishments slaves went through. Butler mirrors this genre throughout the book through Dana’s accounts of this time period. When Dana goes back in time, she is immediately thrown into the historical reality of slavery. Her first encounter with this comes when she runs into a group of patrollers whose job it is to keep slaves obedient to their masters. “Patrollers made sure the slaves were where they were supposed to be at night, and they punished those who weren’t”. Dana also witnesses and experiences the brutality and violence that black slaves experience during this time. In one of her first few trips, she sees members of the Ku Klux Klan punishing a black man because he had lost his papers; “One of the whites went to horse to get what proved to be a whip. He cracked it once in the air, apparently for his own amusement. He then brought it down across the back of the black man”. These patrollers do not get paid for what they do, they do it because they like to exert power over black slaves. This account gives insight into the formalities at the time, and shows how brutal slavery was. As clearly shown, “Kindred” conveys a Neo-slave narrative throughout the novel. The struggles that Dana endures through this narrative are due to her being forced back into time, realizing she has to make decisions to save her existence.

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In the novel, Butler explores the idea of Time Travel through Dana, who finds herself being shunted in time between her California home in 1976 and a pre-Civil War Maryland plantation. When Dana finds out that “these people were my relatives, my ancestors”, she realizes that her being sent back in time could alter her future completely. Dana becomes aware that both Rufus and Alice are her ancestors and will one day have children, so she has “to insure (her) family’s survival, and (her) own birth”. These constant trips to past are triggered due to events that would kill her distant relative Rufus. Dana makes the hard choice to live in this slave society to ensure her birth, which depends on whether Alice gives birth to Hagar. This genre throughout the book gives Dana a firsthand experience of slavery, and drastically changes Danas future. A Time-Travel narrative along with a Neo-slave narrative give Dana a life changing experience of what life is like to be a slave.

The two genres in the book allow Dana to undergo slavery first hand, changing her life completely. When Dana time travels for the first couple times, she considers Kevin and her “Poor actors. We never really got into our roles. We never forgot we were acting”. However, as Dana tries harder to ensure her ancestors survival, she starts to willingly endure slavery; “I could wait a few more months on this plantation”. Dana even considers Tom Weylin, “A fair slave owner”, showing that Dana has changed her attitude on slavery altogether, and does not resent it completely. This shows she has somewhat embraced slavery, and it’s part of her identity. After Dana returns to present day, she travels back to Maryland. She is distraught and feels guilty after she discovers that most of the slaves were sold off. This suggests that part of Dana is still caught in the past, and will always remember the brutality she went through.

“Kindred” engages with two different genres, Neo-slavery and Time-travel. These narratives work together to show the brutal conditions of the past firsthand. In creating a new version of the slave narrative, Dana is echoing and extending historical stories. The time travel throughout the novel is very significant because Dana’s actions in the past can mean life and death for herself in the present. These two genres enable Dana to undergo a transformative experience, and shows how the past can greatly affect the future.

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