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Dana and Kevin arrive back in 1976. They make love. Kevin seems lost. He tells Dana that he felt most at home on the Weylin plantation. Against her will, Dana feels the same way. Kevin’s newly acquired accent reminds Dana of Rufus, and her house reminds her a little of the Weylins’. Kevin says he grew his beard as a disguise, because a mob was after him for helping slaves escape. He cannot remember how the TV or typewriter works. He grows increasingly upset and lashes out at Dana. Dana gets dizzy, and Kevin runs for her bag.
Dana arrives at the Weylins’ alone. Rufus is drunk and lying facedown in a puddle. Dana turns him over and fetches Nigel, who carries Rufus to the house. Weylin, looking old and frail, tells her that as long as she continues to save Rufus’s life, he will allow her to stay. Dana says if he beats her again, she will stop looking out for Rufus. Enraged, Weylin orders her to go tend to Rufus. He says if anything befalls Rufus, he will flay her alive. She believes he means it.
Rufus is trembling. Nigel says that he has the ague, meaning malaria. Dana tells Nigel to put some mosquito netting around Rufus. She explains that the insects spread the disease. But when Rufus tells Dana that his eyes, head, and leg hurt, she realizes that malaria isn’t the problem. Weylin comes in, and Dana tells him he should get a doctor. He refuses, saying Dana can save him. He says she might be a witch or a devil, but she can feel pain, and she will suffer if Rufus dies.
Rufus is sick for days. Dana tends to him, giving him aspirin and forcing him to eat. Dana learns that since she was last there, Alice has had three children by Rufus, two of whom have died. Her third child, Joe, is still living. Dana is pained to hear that Hagar, her ancestor, has not been born yet. The other slaves are cruel to Alice. They suspect that she enjoys being with Rufus. Rufus finally gets well. Weylin has a heart attack. Dana tries to revive him, but she can’t. Rufus accuses her of letting him die.
Nigel and Carrie now have three sons. Nigel says it’s painful to see them enslaved. Alice tells Dana that her first two children fell ill, and the doctor bled them. She blames Rufus for their deaths, since it was he who insisted on sending for the doctor. To punish Dana for failing to save his father, Rufus forces her to work in the fields. Evan Fowler, the new overseer, whips Dana across her back and breasts, ordering her to cut corn faster. As the day wears on, the pain of the work competes with the pain of Fowler’s occasional whippings. Finally, Dana passes out.
When Dana revives, Rufus is standing over her. At the house, she changes and dresses her wounds. She goes to Rufus’s room to get some Excedrin. He orders her not to leave, threatening to send her back to the fields if she disobeys. She stays. Rufus grows gentler and says he knows she tried to save his father. He says his mother is coming back. She is a laudanum (opium) addict, and he wants Dana to take care of her. Dana begs him to reconsider, and he says he will think about it. As Dana leaves, Rufus tells her she can read a book for the rest of the day, or do whatever else she likes. Dana realizes he would be shocked if she refused to forgive him whenever he did something to hurt her.
By showing the changes in Kevin and Dana, Butler suggests that one’s character is entirely dependent on one’s surroundings. After his five-year stint in the past, Kevin is a different man. He can hardly function in 1976. The luxuries of the modern age—televisions, pencil sharpeners—baffle him, and his typewriter, the machine with which he once earned his living, now seems foreign to him. He has not turned into a version of Rufus; as he tells Dana, he has been helping slaves escape. Still, he sees his wife through new eyes. He lashes out at her and shakes off her efforts to comfort him. At one point, the expression on his face reminds Dana of Tom Weylin. Although Dana has not spent as much time in the past as Kevin has, the changes in her are palpable. Like her husband, she feels uncomfortable in the modern age. Although she tries not to, she thinks of the Weylin house as home. Both Kevin and Dana have had hellish experiences in the 1800s, yet the vividness of life in the past is appealing. In 1976, they are protected from extreme discomfort, terrible smells, sickness, and the struggle simply to survive. Their time in Maryland has made them tougher and more thoughtful.
Read more about an important quote by Dana illustrating how both her and Kevin feel dislocated.
Butler takes care to make all of her characters multidimensional and complex. Rather than creating white characters that are portraits in evil and Black characters that are paragons of virtue, a trap some novels and films about the era of slavery fall into, Butler shows the complicated humanity of all of her fictional creations. Alice, for example, is a martyr to slavery who struggles nobly in impossible circumstances. At the same time, though, she is a jealous woman who can be mean-spirited and even vicious. Rufus is a violent, spoiled tyrant. At the same time, though, he genuinely loves the women in his life. In this section, Butler draws attention to the similarities between Alice and Rufus, both of whom blame the death of loved ones on people who aren’t actually responsible. Alice blames Rufus for the death of her children; Rufus blames Dana for the death of his father. In their grief, Alice and Rufus react similarly, striking out at those close to them, knowing that the ones they accuse love them and will tolerate their anger. The horror of death, Butler suggests, cuts across race, class, and gender and can spark the same kind of fury in people who have next to nothing in common.
If much of the suffering in Kindred is the result of people mistreating each other, some of it is the result of the limited science of the time period. In this section of the novel, Butler dramatizes the shocking ineffectiveness and even brutality of antebellum-era medicine. Babies are bled as treatment for fevers, doctors are praised for the quickness with which they chop off limbs, and diseases like malaria are not understood and hard to contain. Rufus treats his pain with alcohol, Weylin drops dead of a heart attack, and Margaret and Alice grimly soldier on after the deaths of their babies. Butler suggests that the aura of death hovers over the United States of the 1800s. African-Americans live under the constant threat of violence. And Black or white, rich or poor, everyone suffers from the less-than-advanced medical practices of the day. Even the richest members of society may derive more harm than profit from the doctors they call. Slavery bears the most responsibility for the culture of death Dana encounters in Maryland. But the nearly primitive health care adds to the general difficulty of life.
Read more about how the threat of violence informs all the characters’ decisions and shapes their personalities.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Kindred!