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Dana takes on household chores. Margaret hounds her, even
going so far as to throw scalding coffee at her. Kevin tries to
persuade Dana to leave the Weylins. Dana refuses. She worries that
someday she will have to return to the plantation alone, and she
wants Rufus to have as many fond memories of her as possible. Kevin
suggests that Dana put herself into a scary situation so that she
will believe her life is in danger, which will prompt the dizzy
spells and get them home. Dana wants to wait until Rufus’s leg has
healed. She does accede to Kevin’s insistence that she begin sleeping
in his room. He tells her that Margaret has been chasing him. Kevin
and Dana have both noticed that several of the female slaves’ children
Dana visits Rufus, at his request. He tells her he sympathized with
Sarah when his father sold off her sons. He asks Dana to read Robinson
Crusoe to him, and she does. Rufus tells her that the books
in the house belonged to his father’s first wife, Miss Hannah. He
also tells her that his father sold Alice’s father to a trader headed south,
but that Alice and her mother still live nearby. Dana wonders whether
the patroller she fought is dead. Rufus says he told his mother
that Dana was the one who saved him from the river. On her way downstairs,
Dana meets Weylin, who quizzes her about her abilities and says
he wants to buy her from Kevin so she can teach Rufus. Dana tells
him that she likes Rufus but prefers to stay with Kevin. Weylin
says that if she does, she’ll regret it.
Weylin forces Dana and the other slaves to watch him whip
a man for talking back. One day, Margaret asks Dana where she slept
last night. When Dana admits that she slept in Kevin’s room, Margaret slaps
Dana. Remembering the whip, Dana does not answer back or defend
herself. In the cookhouse, Sarah reveals that she hates Margaret
because it was she who insisted on selling away Sarah’s children
in order to have more spending money. She warns Dana that Margaret
wants Kevin and that she dislikes Dana because Dana has him. She
advises Dana to make Kevin let her sleep in the attic with the other
slaves again. She also advises her to ask for her freedom while
she is still pretty enough to make Kevin listen.
Dana continues to sleep with Kevin. One morning, she bumps
into Weylin as she leaves the bedroom. He winks at her, and Dana
feels ashamed, as if she’s Kevin’s whore. After catching Dana reading
in the library one day, Weylin tells her to stay away from books
when she’s not reading to Rufus. Nigel, who is thirteen, asks Dana
to teach him to read. She asks him whether he understands the danger involved.
In answer, he shows her his back, which is scarred from the whip.
One day, Kevin and Dana see some young children pretending to auction
each other. Dana is horrified, but Kevin thinks she is overreacting
to what is just a game. He says the plantation is not as inhuman
as he imagined it would be, and Dana says physical violence is not
the only form of brutality. She is disturbed by the ease with which
she and Kevin have grown used to slavery.
Dana continues reading to Rufus. One day, Margaret hangs
around while Dana reads, fussing over her son and continually interrupting Dana
to ask if Rufus is hot or hungry. Eventually, Rufus loses his temper,
and for the first time he reminds Dana of Weylin. In the cookhouse,
Dana finds Nigel teaching Carrie. He says that Sarah doesn’t want
Carrie to learn for fear that it will get her whipped or sold. Dana
agrees to teach Carrie, but not where Sarah might catch them. As
she gets up to burn a spelling test Nigel has just passed, Weylin
comes in. Enraged that Dana has been reading, he drags her outside
and whips her. She gets dizzy before Kevin can make it to her side.
Margaret Weylin resents Dana for several reasons, most
of them motivated by jealousy. She hates Dana’s affectionate, respectful relationship
with Rufus. She hates Dana’s hold over Kevin. She hates Dana’s ability
to read and write, and her educated way of speaking. Most of all,
she hates Dana’s independence. In some ways, Margaret is no freer
than Dana is. She is trapped by her role as Weylin’s wife and Rufus’s
mother. She has no interests of her own and no tasks to carry out.
In an agony of boredom, she wastes her days ordering people to do
what they are already doing, accusing hardworking slaves of laziness,
and obsessing over her son. A woman of no breeding, she aspires
to be a lady and imagines that behaving capriciously and bossing
people around will make her appear just as accomplished as Weylin’s
first wife was. Practically illiterate, Margaret has no inner resources
on which to draw. Dana is a slave, at least in the eyes of the Weylin
household, and that status marks her as Margaret’s inferior. Still,
she enjoys freedoms that Margaret does not. Her days are full, partly
with drudgery but also with the important work of teaching children
how to read—work that the illiterate Margaret is incapable of doing.
Dana has Kevin’s respect, which is far more than Margaret has from
her husband or her son. Dana also has an education, which gives
her confidence and keeps her stimulated in an understimulating time.
She may be a slave, but her thoughts are her own, and they are far
richer than Margaret’s barren musings. Margaret understands, or
at least dimly grasps, the essential differences between herself
and Dana, and she hates and fears Dana as a result.
One of the abiding themes of Kindred is
the disturbing ease with which slavery can be accepted by individuals
and by a whole community of people. Dana suppresses her instincts
to rebel against slavery, especially after she has seen one man
whipped, and Butler suggests that it is the constant threat of violence
that forces people to accept it. The memory of Weylin’s brutality
forces Dana to stay calm, for example, when Margaret slaps her across
the face for sleeping in Kevin’s bed. Butler cites the threat of
emotional violence as another reason to knuckle under. Sarah, a
strong-willed and intelligent woman, tamps down her own fury to
keep her one remaining child close to her. The knowledge that Weylin
could sell off Carrie, as he sold off her sons, scares Sarah into
obedience. But Butler suggests that it is not just the threat of
physical and emotional violence that keeps slavery going. Rather,
she argues, people have an amazing and disquieting predisposition
to accept the status quo. Children observe their elders, figure
out the way things are, and behave accordingly. The children even
pretend to auction each other off. Although they do not consciously
realize what they are doing, they are preparing themselves at an
early age for a predictable life of slavery. Even outsiders find
it easy to accept a state of slavery. It should be nearly impossible
for Dana and Kevin, citizens of modern America, to adjust to 1800s
Maryland. Yet they do adjust, and with astonishing ease. By part 7 of
“The Fall,” Dana is feeling ashamed of her relationship with Kevin,
and Kevin is hinting that life on the plantation isn’t all that
bad. The natural human instinct to fit in, Butler suggests, makes
change difficult and rebellion almost unthinkable.
Because he is a white man, Kevin cannot see the Weylin
plantation as Dana sees it. In part, this is a literal failure to
see. Kevin is in the house, kept away from the day-to-day lives
of the slaves. He doesn’t observe, as Dana does, the whipping of
spirited slaves, the forced illiteracy of children who want to learn,
or the enduring pain of a mother who has lost her children. While
Dana and the other slaves get up while the whites are still sleeping
and stay awake, working, until after the whites have gone to bed,
Kevin is well rested, well fed, and bored. But Kevin’s failure to
see is also a failure of the imagination. Dana describes her husband
as a liberal, forward-thinking man. But even enlightened, twentieth-century
Kevin can block out the evil around him. Butler suggests that it
is easy to ignore injustice we don’t experience firsthand, even
when that injustice is happening right under our noses, and even
when people we love are the ones suffering that injustice. Kevin
stops far short of letting the Weylins off the hook, and he assures
Dana he doesn’t mean to minimize the horror of what’s going on around
them. Still, the fact that he doesn’t experience slavery in the
palpable, personal, and humiliating way that Dana does means that
he cannot fully understand it.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Kindred!