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Analysis of the Influence of Surrounding Circumstances on Personal Development through the Character of Rufus in Octavia E. Butler's ‘Kindred’

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The surroundings of an individual strongly have a large contributing factor in how a person will turn out, while others believe it predestines a person to conduct oneself a certain way. Written by Octavia E. Butler, ‘Kindred’, takes place in 1815, Antebellum South and in 1976, Los Angeles, California. The protagonist is a young African-American woman writer, Dana Franklin, who unexpectedly travels back to pre-Civil War Maryland. Hearing the screams of a drowning red-haired kid, Dana comes to the child’s aid and saves him. From there on, their relationship begins. The five-year-old boy Rufus is the son of a white plantation owner and like any autocrat during this time period, they value authority and commit crimes because of their inhumane slave-accepting culture. Can Dana attempt to prevent Rufus from being like his brutal father? In ‘Kindred’ by Octavia E. Butler, the author communicates that a person’s environment shapes the way they behave and act.

Rufus proves that the setting of a person is more influential since his actions aren’t coincidence, but strongly defined by his violent society where whipping and the power of dominance is exceptional. During Dana’s second encounter with Rufus, he is a young naive boy who tries to set a fire to his draperies in order to get back at his abusive father, but Dana realizes the situation and stops Rufus from proceeding. However, when Rufus addresses Dana as a ‘nigger’ it results in Dana feeling offended and inquiries his word of choice: “Rufus frowned. ‘Why?’ His air of innocent questioning confused me” (25). From this exchange, it’s comprehensible that the author wanted to reveal that most of the white men and women during this time period used ‘nigger’ towards blacks because they are viewed as a separate and lower person from them. No one has ever taught Rufus the real meaning. The author also demonstrated how the inborn nature of Rufus’s environment significantly affects his manner of speech. When Rufus learns about Dana’s and Kevin’s interracial marriage, he goes against it by saying “niggers can’t marry white people” (60). Therefore, when Kevin perceives the statement, Dana reassures Kevin by addressing “the boy learned to talk that way from his mother. And from his father, and probably from the slaves themselves” (61). This further emphasizes as Rufus develops into a young adult, he is more immersed in the patriarchal slave-holding affiliation. Each time Dana travels back in time, she herself is aware of the changing behavior of Rufus “the expression on his face startled me” (104) as Dana observes Rufus as he grows into an irredeemable person. Dana goes on thinking, “for once the boy looked like a smaller replica of his father” (104). Indicating that Rufus’s barbarous actions aren’t by destiny, but is heavily influenced by his society, especially by his father, Tom Weylin.

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Tom Weylin is a result of his time and although in some ways he is a fair man, his culture of slavery have an influence upon him as a white man. Weylin performs the injurious activities that many males in the south during this time cycle dedicated in order to affirm their manliness and advantages in society. He is very frugal and values wealth, but incurs debt. For that reason, his slaves are accounted as his primary source of income. At the moment that Weylin is called when Rufus has broken his leg, Weylin expresses little to no concern about his leg: “Guess it’s broken all right. Wonder how much that’ll cost me” (65). Tom Weylin appears as though he is inhospitable and arrogant towards his own son, only caring about the expense to fix Rufus’s broken leg rather than making sure he was feeling okay. Weylin does what he believes is appropriate for a man of his standing during this time period, which designates putting black people ‘in their place’. When he considers a slave disobeying him, he feels the need to whip them himself when they are ‘entitled’ to punishment. During Dana’s third trip back to the Weylin’s plantation, Tom Weylin has made it clear to Dana that her being an educated slave does not mean she holds higher power over Weylin. Like so Tom Weylin forbids Dana from touching any books or teaching other slaves within the plantation: “Didn’t I tell you that I didn’t want you reading” (106). Because of the context of his society it is dangerous to have educated slaves that can escape and this would cause Weylin to lose his source of income. Hence, when Dana is caught teaching Nigel, Weylin immediately whips Dana because she went against his order. This focuses the attention on the actions of crime committed by many men in the south to assert their masculinity and privilege. However, while Dana takes care of Rufus in the course of her fourth trip, he assures Dana that his father was a fair man. Dana too observes that Tom Weylin punished no one in order to satisfy his own appetite for cruelty compared to some of the other men of his day, “He wasn’t a monster at all. Just an ordinary man who sometimes did monstrous things his society said were legal and proper” (134). Regardless of how Tom Weylin may be an honest man who keeps his words, represented by the brutal violence of his time, he is after all a tyrant slave-owner who is not to be absolved.

In conclusion, in ‘Kindred’ by Octavia E. Butler, the author displays how the place, people, time, and circumstances of an individual can structure people’s attitudes and perceptions. This enacts in Rufus’s development from childhood to adulthood he is being steadily guided by his surroundings towards a path of misdeed particularly by Tom Weylin, who himself is just another product of his slave-accepting lifestyle. A significant thing in ‘Kindred’ that Butler wanted to portray was the power that society can have on the ideals and morals of a person. When the toxic environment of someone is precisely influenced, not only does the person change how they view themselves, but also how others view them.

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Analysis of the Influence of Surrounding Circumstances on Personal Development through the Character of Rufus in Octavia E. Butler’s ‘Kindred’. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from
“Analysis of the Influence of Surrounding Circumstances on Personal Development through the Character of Rufus in Octavia E. Butler’s ‘Kindred’.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
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Analysis of the Influence of Surrounding Circumstances on Personal Development through the Character of Rufus in Octavia E. Butler’s ‘Kindred’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2023 Dec 1]. Available from:
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