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Dana tells Kevin what Carrie said about the slaves being
sold if Rufus were to die. Kevin is surprised by Carrie’s smarts;
he assumed she was mentally delayed. He says Dana has an easy decision
to make. Dana asks what he wants her to do. He doesn’t say anything, and
Dana demands to know how she can do it if he can’t even say it. The
implication is that Kevin wants her to kill Rufus.
Dana is back in 1976 for fifteen
days. She and Kevin are happy to be reunited. One day, though, he
accuses her of wanting to go back to Maryland and asks whether Rufus
raped her. She says that she is willing to seem like property, but
she is not willing to be property. If she has to
live with limited freedom, Rufus has to refrain from violating her.
Kevin believes her, although he does not understand what she is
saying. Dana says she worries that if she lets Rufus die, she will not
be able to get home.
On the Fourth of July, Dana returns to the Weylins’. Rufus
looks exhausted, but he doesn’t look much older. Dana has only been away
for three months. Rufus leads her to the barn. Inside, she finds Alice,
dead, hanging from a rope. Dana cuts Alice’s body down. Rufus returns
and tells her that Alice committed suicide. Sarah tells Dana that
Alice tried to run away and Rufus sold Joe and Hagar, driving Alice
half mad with grief. Dana goes to Rufus and finds him holding a
handgun. She wonders if she was sent back to prevent him from killing
himself. Rufus tells her he didn’t really sell the children; he
sent them to his aunt in Baltimore to frighten Alice and convince her
not to leave him. Dana blames him for Alice’s death and says freeing
Joe and Hagar is the least he can do.
The day after Alice’s funeral, Rufus takes Dana to town
to witness him freeing his children. Joe now calls Rufus “Daddy,”
instead of “Master.” Dana tries to convince Rufus to free all his
slaves in his will, but Rufus says she might kill him if he does
that. Dana hadn’t considered the possibility. Rufus says he has
nightmares about her leaving him alone to suffer and die. She refuses
to promise him she would never do such a thing. Then he says that
he sold Sam because he wanted Dana. The sexual content of the remark
scares Dana. Rufus grabs her and tells her she looks so much like
Alice he can’t stand it. She gets away and hurries to the attic,
where she gets out her knife. Rufus follows her. He apologizes to
her for the first time in their lives. He wonders aloud how long
it will take her to stop hating him. He lies with his arm around
her, and for a few moments she thinks it would not be so bad to
sleep with him. Then she decides she can’t be his lover. She stabs
him twice. He screams, and Nigel comes in. Rufus goes limp, his
hand on Dana’s arm. She time travels home. Her arm is fused to the
wall exactly where Rufus’s hand gripped it.
As soon as Dana is well, Kevin and Dana go back to Maryland
in present time. The Weylin house is gone. They find a newspaper
article describing the sale of the Weylin estate, including the
slaves, after Rufus’s death in a fire. Dana figures Nigel set the
fire to cover up her murder of Rufus. Kevin and Dana can’t find
a record of what happened to Hagar and Joe, although Dana knows
that Hagar lived long enough to be freed by the amendment to the
Constitution. She can find no record of Nigel and Carrie’s sale.
Dana is mostly pleased about the state of her marriage,
but Butler does not allow us to share her happiness. In the final
section of the novel, Kevin continues to come across as a well-meaning
but self-involved and limited man. He isn’t brave enough even to
speak the word kill, much less make a convincing
case to Dana that she should slay Rufus. Butler makes it clear that
Dana is right: Kevin would never have the courage to murder Rufus.
He is a good man, but he has none of Dana’s backbone and grit. Kevin
is also irrationally fixated on his wife’s recent sexual history,
sulking about the possibility that she has slept with Rufus. When
she reassures him, he is far less interested in her perceptive remarks
about sex and property than he is in whether he can trust her when
she says that she and Rufus haven’t slept together. There is no
doubt that Kevin is in most ways a better man than Rufus, and that
he is a more appropriate mate for Dana. Yet in this final section
of the novel, it is also clear that Dana feels far more passionately
about Rufus—passionate hatred, passionate love, passionate violence—than
she does about her husband.
Dana and Rufus’s final interaction is just as complex
as their entire relationship has been. In one way, it is a straightforward scene:
Rufus attempts to rape Dana, and she kills him. But what Dana feels
about the attempted rape is far from straightforward. For a long
couple of moments, she considers giving in and doing what Rufus
asks of her. She knows it would be easy to forgive him. She notices
his combed hair and his clean smell—“for me?” she asks herself.
Part of her doesn’t mind the thought of sleeping with Rufus. In
the end, she decides that she can’t bear to be Rufus’s lover. But before
she makes that decision, she feels the same affection for Rufus
that she has always felt. Butler shows that even this desire of Rufus’s,
which Dana has long identified as the one desire she refuses to
fulfill, is not entirely repugnant to Dana. In this scene, and throughout
the novel, Butler does not simplify Dana’s feelings for Rufus. She
makes their relationship difficult, even off-putting. We may struggle
to understand why Dana feels any sympathy for her tormentor, much
less affection and even love for him. But Butler risks offending
readers to show that we rarely feel unmitigated hatred toward anyone,
even those who abuse and betray us.
Octavia Butler primarily wrote science fiction, and Kindred is often
classified as a science fiction novel. Butler herself has said the novel
would interest three groups of people: those interested in black
history, those interested in women’s history, and those interested
in science fiction. But time travel, the element that puts the novel
in the science fiction genre, is never really explored. We are left with
many questions: If Dana is called back when Rufus’s life is in danger,
how does she manage to go back in time at the end of the novel,
when he is merely holding an empty gun? Why does Dana return to
the present only when her life is threatened? What explains the
varying lengths of time that pass while she is away? In the end, these
questions are not really of interest to Butler, or to Dana. Dana does
wonder what causes her leaps back in time, but she doesn’t think
at all about how she is physically transported to 1800s
Maryland. She accepts that she travels through time, and that is
that. Time travel is a device in Kindred. The story
itself is a personal drama, a historical fiction, and a cautionary
tale. Explaining the mechanics of time travel would only detract
from Butler’s main objective: to explore slavery and its ramifications.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Kindred!