“People who think about time travel stories sometimes think that going back in time would be fun because you would have all the information you needed to be much more astute than the people there; when the truth is, of course, you wouldn’t” (Octavia E. Butler). The novels, Kindred, written by Octavia E. Butler, and Flight, authored by Sherman Alexie, both involve the main topic of time travel. The book, Kindred, presents the story of an African-American woman who travels back in time to save the life of a young boy, who she discovers, is her ancestor. As she stays to ensure he will grow into adulthood, she experiences first-hand slavery, causing her to deal with many issues. Flight is a novel about an Indian teenage boy, who goes through different periods and perspectives after committing mass murder. While both Kindred and Flight involve time travel, Kindred approaches topics, such as racism and power, while Flight focuses on isolation.
To begin, Kindred uses time travel to discuss important topics, such as racism, sexism, and classism. Dana experiences racism in both her time period and the antebellum South, as a result of slavery. One of the first encounters of racism introduced in the book is when Dana is called a racial slur. “Just a strange n****r. She and Daddy both knew they hadn’t seen you before…Why are you mad?…I’m a black woman, Rufe. If you have to call me something other than my name, that’s it..do me the courtesy of calling me what I want to be called” (Butler 24-25). When Dana hears what Rufus’s mother said about her, she felt exasperated and shocked by how often white people use this term as a description. Dana saved Rufus from drowning, so she would expect for his mother to have some respect or show kindness towards her. This text provides an example of the racist actions of Mrs.Weylin and how comfortable she is, expressing herself freely. Rufus’s mother could have used descriptions of the clothing, Dana was wearing or facial features she had, to describe her, but, she displayed her racist mindset. Also, this shows how often the n-word was spoken, and how racist people were. Time travel is used to discuss the topic of racism because time travel presents how white people mistreated black people based on the color of their skin. Racism is taught to every generation, in Kindred, Rufus did not understand why Dana was upset as she was referred out of her name. In addition, time travel shows how the effects of racism from Antebellum slavery to now in society, highlighting the issues, that occurred in the past.
As time progresses in Kindred, Dana discusses how Tom Weylin abuses his power. “I screamed, convulsed. Weylin struck me again and again until I couldn’t have gotten up at gunpoint. I kept trying to crawl away from the blows, but I didn’t have the strength or coordination to get far…I thought Weylin meant to kill me” (Butler 107). In Kindred, Dana deals with classism, which is prejudice or discrimination based on class. Slaveowners possessed a higher position than slaves. Racism connected with classism during the time period of slavery in the Antebellum South. White people disliked slaves, based on the color of their skin, and treated them, how they desired, based on the high power they owned. Tom Weylin, for example, sold people and beat slaves, for reasons, such as attempting to learn how to read, or running away. Power itself can be positive or negative, based on who controls it. It can cause people to either do cruel acts or righteous acts. Time travel is used to show how power influences people’s experiences of life. Also, time travel takes us back in time to see how different social classes were treated, from the enslaved field hands to enslaved house servants, and gentry. In Kindred, Dana is an enslaved house servant, who works in the field for some time, and understands what they go through, being the lowest social class. Dana continues to deal with several issues as the story furthers.
From time to time, Dana deals with the conflict of sexism, while ensuring Rufus’s wellbeing. In Kindred, when Alice, mistress of Rufus, kills herself, Dana comforts Rufus as he grieves. But, Rufus attempts to take advantage of Dana and nearly rapes her, because Alice and Dana physically look similar. “He stood up and came over to me. I stepped back, but he caught my arms anyway. ‘You’re so much like her, I can hardly stand it,’ he said…I was aware of him trying not to hurt me, even as I raised the knife, even as I sank it into his side”(Butler 257, 260). Sexism is a topic exhibited in Kindred. During slavery, women and men were treated differently and had different roles. Extreme sexism, known as misogyny, such as sexual harassment and rape, often occurred during slavery. Enslaved women had to do everything their owner desired. Rufus believed that women had less authority and should listen to him. He attempted to rape Dana for comfort to fill the emptiness he had after Alice’s death. Time travel was used in this story to discuss some of the struggles women faced and how society believed this was a social norm. Time travel helps the reader understand how the barriers of what tasks women and men could perform are now broken. Additionally, time travel can be used to highlight the feelings characters experience.
Unlike Kindred, Flight utilizes time travel, to highlight emotions, instead of social topics. Flight focuses on isolation. Zits feels isolated from the world because his mother when he was a child and his father abandoned him at birth. He has been in many foster homes, but never feels like he belongs. “I am Irish and Indian, which would be the coolest blend in the world if my parents were around to teach me how to be Irish and Indian. But they’re not here and haven’t been for years, so I’m not really Irish or Indian. I am a blank sky, a human solar eclipse (Alexie 5). Zits is isolated from the world because he has no one to support him. Isolation can cause people to feel empty, and unloved. He refers to himself as a blank sky, to describe his character and shape. His life is dull and repetitive, because he undergoes the same routine, moving from one family to another. Zits has no companion to talk to when he is going through different feelings or struggling with life. Time travel is used to highlight the emotions that all humans experience at least once in a lifetime, which is isolation. Time travel highlights the feelings of isolation because it displays how a person can change from feeling isolated and after feeling welcome. For example, in Flight, Zits is extremely closed-off and isolated at the beginning of the story, and at the end of the story, Zits feels accepted and wants to be known as his birth name, Michael. In all, time travel describes how the characters feel moved through time, alone, humans feel the same emotion, isolation changes how a person views different parts of life. Additionally, time travel reflects on the past and forces people to confront their feelings, such as isolation, to move past negative thoughts.
Similarly, Kindred and Flight, both use time travel and the main characters a free will at the end of the novel. In Kindred, Dana has no free will when she travels back in time while ensuring Rufus’s adulthood. The conflict presented in Kindred is Dana struggles to survive in the antebellum South. The role of free will in the novel solves the problem Dana faces because Dana discovers she can rid free of Rufus’s obsessive hold by killing him, to avoid staying in the past. After killing Rufus, Dana can live freely and understands she is safe from Rufus and the system of slavery. Like Dana, Zits discovers he has a free will in society. In Flight, the conflict presented is man versus society. Zits refuses to follow the social norms of society. He begins to time travel when he makes a decision based off of peer pressure, he has no control over whose body he possesses and the actions he commits. When Zits experiences life from different perspectives, he has a free will to make another choice, without someone depending on him. The role of free will in Flight solves the problems in the novel because Zits realized, after living in different perspectives of lives, he doesn’t want to live, moving from person to person, and he makes new decisions and wants to be a part of society, out of isolation.
In conclusion, both Kindred and Flight use time travel, but for different aspects, such as social topics and emotions. Both novels end with the characters having a free will to resolve their conflicts. Time travel fits the theme of both Kindred and Flight because it shows how different environments produce different ideologies, and how a journey can change a person after experiencing life-changing events. In Kindred, time travel is used to discuss racism, classism, and sexism. In Flight, time travel focuses on the feeling of isolation. The tone of both novels are direct and informal, time travel fits these tones because it describes to readers how history was, exhibiting seriousness about how slavery was, and the history of Native Americans, and the impact seen today, caused by history. Time travel transports readers to a different period, causing them to build an image to view life from a different perspective, and understand characters in either in a novel, movie, or comic.