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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.
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.
What do Dana’s experiences say about
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Kindred!