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Dana tells the story of how she met Kevin. She wrote late
at night, and to make ends meet, she did menial jobs assigned to
her by a temp office, which they called a “slave market.” While
working at an auto parts warehouse, she met Kevin. Although he was
working at the warehouse fulltime, he had just sold a novel and
heard that Dana was also a writer. Seeing that Dana didn’t have
enough money to eat lunch, he bought her a meal. They bonded over
stories of unsupportive relatives. Another employee teased them
for being an interracial couple. The lunches continued, and eventually
Kevin asked Dana to a play.
Dana gets dizzy, and Kevin holds on to her. In that way,
he travels back to the South with her. Rufus has just fallen out
of a tree and broken his leg. He is with a young black boy named
Nigel, whom Dana sends to the house to get help. Rufus asks who
Kevin is, and Kevin tells him that he is Dana’s husband. Rufus is
shocked. He calls Dana “nigger” again, and again she corrects him.
They tell Rufus that they come from California and the year 1976.
He does not believe them. They tell him a bit about history to come
and then show him coins with the date stamped on them. Rufus decides
he does believe, even though he doesn’t understand. Dana asks him
to tell no one besides Nigel. She also gets him to agree to pretend
that Kevin owns her.
Tom Weylin, Rufus’s father, arrives to get Rufus. He wonders
aloud, in a complaining voice, what the doctor will charge to fix
Rufus’s leg. Kevin and Weylin have a private conversation. Rufus
begs his father to allow Kevin and Dana to come with them. Weylin
agrees and offers to let them stay at his home. When asked, Dana
tells Weylin that they are from New York. The slave with Weylin,
who seems to be Nigel’s father, warns Dana that Weylin can be a
cruel man and that his son is not much better. At home, Margaret
Weylin, Rufus’s mother, rushes to see Rufus, fussing over him and
casting baleful glances at Dana. Over Rufus’s objections, Margaret
sends Dana out to the cookhouse for dinner. Dana meets Carrie, the
mute daughter of Sarah, the cook. Sarah despises Margaret. A man
named Luke questions Dana about her origins while the group eats
a dinner of cornmeal mush. Nigel asks Dana why she talks like a
white person, and Dana tells him that her mother was a teacher.
The slaves react to this story with skepticism and warn Dana that
Weylin already resents her educated speech and the fact that she
comes from a free state. They say he worries that Dana might give
the slaves ideas about freedom.
Carrie slips Dana some bread and ham, which Dana eats
with gratitude, although she worries about sanitation. Sarah tells
Dana that her husband is dead, and that Carrie is the only one of
her four children whom Weylin didn’t sell. Dana marvels that Sarah,
who cooks the Weylins’ food, has not poisoned Mr. Weylin yet. Kevin
comes for Dana, and they talk. She explains that she is worried
he will be left behind if she gets dizzy when he is not around.
Privately, she also worries that some taint from the past would
rub off on Kevin if he is forced to play the role of a white slave
owner. Kevin tells Dana that the doctor set Rufus’s leg, and that
Weylin has hired Kevin to teach Rufus while he recuperates. Kevin
has told Weylin that he is a writer from New York and that he bought
Dana because he thought her education might be useful to him. He
also implied that he is sleeping with Dana. He warns Dana that Weylin
resents her education. Dana hopes she and Kevin will be able to
prevent Rufus from turning into his father.
Dana’s attitude toward Rufus is puzzling. She is tied
to him, since his scrapes and accidents are what bring her back
to the South, so clearly there is no point in alienating him. Rufus
is a also a white male, which means he is a powerful being who could
do Dana harm, so logic demands that she treat him with a good measure
of decency. But surprisingly, Dana supercedes mere decency. Rufus
is from a family of slave owners; one day, he will be the same kind
of master his father is. Therefore, Dana could be forgiven for seeing
him as an enemy. But instead, she treats him not only with kindness
but also a true tenderness. Her motives for behaving this way are
complicated. In part, she is driven by simple affection for him.
Perhaps it is impossible not to feel affection for someone whose
life you have saved repeatedly. Dana also pities Rufus because of
the vicious treatment he receives at the hands of his father. Rufus
may be a shocking racist by the standards of our time, but when
Dana compares him to his father, she finds him to be the lesser
of two evils. He is sometimes willing to call Dana a black woman,
and he often treats her with respect and affection. Rufus’s malleability
also appeals to Dana. He is still a young boy, and he shows a willingness
to learn. Teaching him tolerance will make Dana’s visits to the
past more bearable and improve life for the Weylins’ slaves. Perhaps
most important, Dana does not want to be descended from an evil
man. Molding Rufus means molding one of her ancestors. Dana treats
Rufus gently but firmly, almost as a good mother would, in the hopes
that she can shape his character effectively.
Many works of literature set in the antebellum South contain
a so-called mammy character, a cook or other domestic servant portrayed
as a loving woman and a willing, jolly slave. In Butler’s novel, the
cook, Sarah, is no mammy. In fact, Butler explicitly contrasts Sarah
with the traditional mammy figure to undercut it. While she may
appear docile to the Weylins, she is not a coward. Rather, she is a
complex and passionate woman. Sarah burns with hatred toward those
who have enslaved her and her family. She loathes Weylin for selling
her children and understands the power he has over her. He uses
Carrie as a bargaining chip: As long as Sarah has Carrie, he knows,
she will not harm him or his family members, and she will not attempt
to run away. She will feign loyalty in order to retain the one family
member she has left. Her subservience is a front she keeps up to
avoid losing anything else.
The history of Kevin and Dana’s meeting and courtship,
which takes up the first part of this chapter, gives us some insight
into the current state of their relationship. When the two first
meet, Kevin has all the power. He is older and more confident than
Dana. He is also more successful than she is, not only because he
works fulltime and Dana is only a temp but also because he is finding
success in his writing career, and Dana is not. He has more money
than she does, and he buys her lunch, even when she objects. Kevin’s
status as a white man also gives him power over Dana. Dana is attracted
to Kevin, and she allows him to woo her. Still, the power dynamics
that characterize the beginnings of their relationship continue
to resonate. And if Dana doesn’t have equal power with Kevin in 1970s California,
she certainly does not profit by their plunge into antebellum Maryland.
Once in the South, Kevin and Dana must confront the disturbing fact
that in the 1800s, their playacting at being
master and slave could have been a reality. While Butler wants us
to look beyond the interracial aspects of Kevin and Dana’s relationship—it is
not until this section of the novel, for example, that we find out
for sure that Kevin is white—she stresses that even progressive,
forward-thinking interracial couples feel the aftershocks of slave-era concepts
Ace your assignments with our guide to Kindred!