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A book by Octavia E. Butler

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Outstanding Treatise on Slavery and Powerlessness

  • Mar 4, 2009
KINDRED is one of those rare novels that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let you go until the very end. From the first sentence, Butler's simple, straightforward prose moves the story quickly making it nearly impossible for the reader to put down.

Dana, a black woman living in Los Angeles in 1976, is inexplicably transported to 1815 to save the life of a small, red-haired boy on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It turns out this small boy, Rufus, is one of her white slave owning ancestors, who she knows very little about. Dana continues to be called into the past to save Rufus, and frequently stays long periods of time in the slave owning South. The only way she can get back to 1976 is to be in a life threatening situation. During her stays in the past she is forced to assume the role of a slave to survive. She is whipped. She is beaten. She is nearly raped, twice. She is forced to watch whippings and families being broken up. She learns to enjoy hard work as an escape from the other horrors of slave life. And she watches as a fairly unassuming small son of a plantation owner grows up to be a cruel, capricious, hot-tempered slave owner in his own right. And to be her great-grandfather many generations removed.

KINDRED is about slavery and the scars it has inflicted on American society. There are really three key factors Butler focuses on that reveal the ability of the South to institutionalize slavery. First there is the physical abuse. The constant work, especially the physically exhausting work of a field hand, kept slaves too tired to run or become insolent. Being ever on the verge of a lash or two for minor offenses kept slaves working to avoid punishment. Being beaten nearly to death after escape attempts made a slave reluctant to try again; especially if this is coupled with the abuse of the slave's family. Then there is the psychological abuse. The continual threat of being beaten or watching others be beaten broke the spirits of those in bondage. The worst punishment was sometimes having to watch a family member abused for your transgression.

Encouraging slaves to marry and have children also deadened their desire to escape. Families made the slave settle down, gave him or her something to protect and care for. The selling off of a few family members had a damping effect on a slave's spirit. A most poignant example is the slave Sarah, the primary house slave; "Weylin had sold only three of her children, left her one to live for and protect". She rarely questioned slavery, thought little of freedom, because "she had lost all she could stand to lose". The risk of losing the one daughter she had left was too great. Slaves that escaped had to be willing to risk not only their own life but possibly the lives of their family.

The physical and psychological abuse imposed on the slave made it so much easier to accept one's lot in life and avoid the unpleasantries that recalcitrance entailed. The ease with which Dana falls into the routines of everyday life as a slave shocks her. Work is a refuge from the other toils of slave life and the patterns become the norm. There is even an ambiguous feeling toward the slave owner. The slave owner is hated for the physical and psychological abuse imposed on the slave. But at the same time the slave loved the owner in a familial sense, even though the slave owner was seldom worthy of this. Thus slavery became for many the accepted norm of life, even if this acceptance was a tenuous and unhappy one at best. This acceptance was generational. Dana at one point espies children playing at selling each other on the auction block and haggling over price.

Many times throughout history sheer terror has been used to subdue a population and sap it of its strength. One only has to look at the Tsar's of Russia like Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Stalin to realize the extent to which terror can be used to subjugate a people. The Southern aristocracy of the United States practiced a similar terror till 1864 and beyond.

There is much historical evidence for the Butler's depiction of slavery and its effects. KINDRED is patterned after the slave narratives becoming more widely read today. These include Frederick Douglass' NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS, AN AMERICAN SLAVE and Harriet A. Jacobs INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL. Butler could have depicted the beatings and physical abuse in more graphic detail to have a greater impact on the reader.

Slavery even has its effects in 1976. The scars Dana brings back to 1976 are symbolic of the scars slavery has left on contemporary society. Some will heal with time. Some can never heal. Others will scab over and be just below the surface. But they are all there. But in another sense healing has taken place. Dana is married to a white man, Kevin, who is transported to 1815 with her once. While there they both fall easily into the pattern or act of slave owner and slave concubine, roles they must assume to survive. The ease with which they fall into these roles brings about a greater consciousness of their ethnicity. But through this relationship Butler leaves the reader with hope. Dana's love for Kevin is what really pulls her through the most harrowing terrors she faces and in the end gives her the strength to survive this horrible test.

KINDRED is written at the young adult level and moves along at a brisk pace. I highly recommend it for teenagers and adults.

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March 04, 2009
Yes, it is really a telling novel told in a somewhat new and different way. This is probably the most "asccesible" of Butler's works. I like her books but some find her other novels to be more difficult.
March 04, 2009
I really like books like Kindred because they highlight that the scars of slavery did not disappear with civil rights legislation of the 1960s, let alone the 13th Amendment. The fact that it's written for young adults is great, because you need to target individuals at a younger age so they mold their opinions early on, instead of having to be "re-educated" when they're older and set in their ways.
More Kindred reviews
review by . June 27, 2010
   This book begins in the hospital, as Diane is trying to convince the police that her boyfriend is not responsible for her horrific injuries. They do finally believe her, in part because there is no way he could have enmeshed her arm into a wall. Dana Franklin, a black woman writer, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday in 1976 when she is snatched from her Southern California home and transported to the bank of a river in the antebellum South where she saves the life of a young …
Quick Tip by . August 09, 2010
Butler always gets an automatic 5 from me. Best sci-fi author. :)
Quick Tip by . June 30, 2010
im reminded of myself!
About this book


The twenty-fifth-anniversary edition of the classic novel that has sold over 250,000 copies

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back again and again for Rufus, yet each time the stay grows longer and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana"s life will end, long before it has even begun.

"In Kindred Octavia Butler creates a road for the impossible, and a balm for the unbearable. It is everything the literature of science fiction can be."
—Walter Mosley

"[Kindred] is a shattering work of art with much to say about love, hate, slavery and racial dilemmas, then and now."
—Los Angeles Herald Examiner

"Truly terrifying. . . . A book you"ll find hard to put down."

"Butler"s books are exceptional. . . . She is a realist, writing the most detailed social criticism and creating some of the most fascinating female characters in the genre . . . real women caught in impossible situations."
¯The Village Voice

"Butler"s literary craftsmanship is superb."—The Washington Post Book World

See all Editorial Reviews

Octavia E. Butler (22 June 1947 - 24 February 2006) , author of several crtically acclaimed novels, died at the age of 58 after a fall outside her
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ISBN-10: 0807083690
ISBN-13: 978-0807083697
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Genre: Literature & Fiction, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Beacon Press; 25th Anniversary edition (February 1, 2004)
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