Summary: The Rope, Part 1

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.

Summary: The Rope, Part 2

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.

Summary: The Rope, Part 3

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.

Summary: The Rope, Part 4

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.

Summary: Epilogue

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.

Analysis: The Rope and Epilogue

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.

Read more about the significance of Alice choosing suicide over running away at the end of the novel.

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.

Read more about how familial love is used as a tool for those who seek to oppress.

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.

Read more about the motif of time travel.