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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.
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Kindred!