1. Why does Alice kill herself instead of run away?
Alice kills herself because she has lost all of her possible identities. Running ceases to exist as an option, because Alice cannot lay claim to any of the identities she would need to embrace in order to flee. She cannot see herself as a fiery young rebel willing to risk the whippings, dog attacks, and death that running away might entail. After years with Rufus, she cannot see herself as Isaac’s wife, so desperate to reunite with her husband that she will flee the Weylins’ plantation to find him. Neither can Alice take on one of the identities she would need to inhabit to remain on the plantation. Because she thinks Rufus has sold her children, she can no longer think of herself as a mother. Although she had found some measure of peace with Rufus, she can’t conceive of continuing to live alongside the man who has robbed her of her children, and so she can no longer think of herself as Rufus’s grudging partner. Alice kills herself because it becomes impossible for her to imagine a way to exist in the world.
2. How does Rufus feel about Dana?
Because Kindred is told in the first person, from Dana’s perspective, we never get to peer into Rufus’s head. In addition, Rufus does not speak directly about his feelings for Dana. From his actions, however, we can glean that for Rufus, Dana is every key female figure rolled into one. She is mother, sister, lover, and wife to him. In the beginning of the novel, Dana is a better parental figure for Rufus than Margaret Weylin is. She teaches him rudimentary morals and shows him that the conventional wisdom of his day is all wrong. As Rufus grows up, he sees Dana as a sister. The two of them quarrel, lash out at each other, and threaten each other much as siblings might. Eventually, Rufus’s love for Dana becomes sexual. He is just as attracted to her as he is to Alice. While he loves Alice and loves sleeping with her, however, Rufus feels something more for Dana. He respects her intelligence and needs to talk to her to feel sane. Knowing Dana is the closest Rufus comes to understanding marriage and partnership as modern people conceive of it. The varied and powerful roles Dana plays for Rufus explain her strong hold on him. All of these roles are also tainted, however, by the omnipresent master-slave dynamic, which intensifies as Rufus ages. None of Dana’s roles—mother, sister, lover, wife—supersedes her role as Rufus’s subordinate. Dana often forgets this fact, but Rufus does not, as Butler reminds us.
3. What do Dana’s experiences say about modern America?
Dana’s journey into the past and back again is meant to remind us of the attempts of the African-American community, and of Americans in general, to understand and come to terms with the history of slavery in the United States. Like many Americans, Dana knew she had slaves in her ancestry, but before her time traveling began, she knew little more about her relatives and their personal struggles than what she could glean from history books. She was disconnected from her family’s history both because of the lack of a record and because of her own indifference. Kevin, too, is disconnected. Although Butler does not suggest that Kevin’s family owned slaves, she does not state that they didn’t. He hardly knows his own sister; it shocks him to find that she has adopted her husband’s racist beliefs. He certainly doesn’t know about the politics of his ancestors. To understand their origins—and to appreciate what it means to be an interracial couple in modern times—Dana and Kevin must come to a fuller understanding of the past. In their case, it takes a physical journey to the past to achieve understanding. But Butler suggests that every American who wants to come to grips with slavery must travel back in time, at least metaphorically, to witness its horrors.
1. What does it mean that Kevin is white? How would Kindred be different if Dana’s husband were black?
2. What literary techniques does Butler use to elevate her novel above simple science fiction?
3. What does it mean that both Dana’s and Kevin’s parents are dead?
4. What effect does Dana’s first-person narration have on the novel?
5. Can Kindred be called a love story?