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Main Themes in Octavia Butler’s Story ‘Kindred’

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Octavia Butler’s ‘Kindred’, tells a story of how a woman from the modern era called Dana was taken back in time from her house in California into the antebellum south to protect a man that would become her ancestor. You could say that her survival essentially relied on her ability to keep him alive and well. Throughout her long and inexplicable journey, Dana discovers the true meaning of freedom when she is able to compare her owl life to those in the shackles of slavery thanks to Rufus’ father Tom Weylin. All the characters in the book have an essential role in Dana’s development, especially Alice. Alice is the woman who must have the baby that would eventually become Dana’s great grandmother. Although Alice has no love for Rufus, she must submit to him, which is a totally bogus concept for Dana. The relationship between Dana and Alice is formed so that the reader gains a greater understanding of not only of a twentieth century black woman’s experiences in the antebellum south, but more importantly, of a nineteenth century widow who is also black and a slave. It was important for Alice to be introduced because she creates a parallelism between the past and the present, explaining how Dana and Alice impress each other in areas such as sexuality and motherhood.

The concept of sexuality for Dana was initially one that she felt comfortable with and had control over back when she was in her original time. Dana sees sex as a way of enjoyment and satisfaction, while her ancestor, Alice, has the opposite of feelings towards sexuality because they create pain and agony for her. In the books’ beginning, when Dana talks about bringing Kevin home for the first time, she talks about their first sexual encounter in a way that had a certain amount of pleasure and well-being. “Sometime during the early hours of the next morning when we lay together, tired and content in my bed, I realized that I knew less about loneliness than I had thought” (57). For Dana, sexuality was an outlet for comfort, confidence, and freedom because her environment didn’t allow her to be subjected to any sort of suppression or abuse. On the other side of the coin, Alice’s sexual environment of vulnerability and abuse characterized the sexual experiences of the many black women during times of slavery. For Alice, she was faced with the horrible bottom line that she would have to have sex with Rufus just to survive. Basically, the idea of sexuality as seen by both Alice and Dana provide the reader with different perspectives, thus creating a better understanding of the importance of sexuality.

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Motherhood is another example of the elements that Alice and Dana characterize during the novel, allowing us to see the parallels and differences of the times. For Dana, who has yet to become a mother, her maternal instincts sure did come out when she was placed in the Antebellum South. She quickly begins to understand that all her actions on the plantation can and will affect the rest of the slaves. Because of this, Dana is forced to consider her behavior on the plantation so as not to hurt anyone, while still not fully comprehending the full meaning of motherhood. For Alice, being a mother was practically the only thing that kept her from suicide for most of the book. Alice had to live in a society where death sometimes was seen as a better option than living. To add insult to injury, Alice becoming a mother complicated her life even more because she knew that her children would automatically become slaves since she was one herself. Alice also had to refrain from running away because of her children. She knew that if she did something reckless, Rufus was going to sell her children and that was the last thing she wanted. Alice’s main reason to live were her children, as was the case for most if not all mothers in the time period.

With the character that is Alice, the author shows us the fundamental fact that the past informs the present, and eventually the future. Butler goes beyond what information we have always perceived about a black slave woman’s life by creating a dualism between the two timelines (past and present), so that we can inspect them and find correlations with one another. By doing this, we can put ourselves in their shoes and further our understanding of a free black woman as well as a woman just like her in slavery.

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Main Themes in Octavia Butler’s Story ‘Kindred’. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
“Main Themes in Octavia Butler’s Story ‘Kindred’.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
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