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Motif of Power Dynamics in ‘Kindred’ and ‘The Book of Martha’ by Octavia Butler

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“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace”, - Mahatma Gandhi. This quote connects to a motif shown in each story, ‘Kindred’ and ‘The Book of Martha’ by Octavia Butler. The motif shown in each story is power dynamics, wherein each, they both develop the motif throughout the books and similarly/differently deals with that motif. In ‘Kindred’, it is about a 26-year-old African American woman named Edana (Dana) Franklin. The current time period was 1976, but then was suddenly sent back to 1815, to save a boy named Rufus every time he is about to die. After she saved him, she saw a man with a gun who is Rufus’ dad, Tom Weiyln and she was sent back to her time when she thought she was going t die. It’s only been less than a day when Dana was sent back, this time different. Rufus appeared to be older. The next time she visited Rufus, she was touching Kevin at the time so not only Dana but Kevin also came. Kevin had to declare right away that Dana was his slave to save Dana from being owned by Tom, which he didn’t want. After some time, they realized they would stay a long time and they won’t know when they will get back so they had to make a way for Kevin to earn money to escape being able to buy necessaries, and for Dana to be able to stay safe while doing so. After some time, she got whipped by Tom for having a book, which is the beginning of the development of the motif of power dynamics. In ‘The Book of Martha’, it is about an African American woman, born into a mother who was age 14, homeless and poor and is pursuing a writing career. Martha met God in a ‘dream’ or she thought. When God explains everything, how he wants Martha to make one choice in order to save humanity or perhaps destroy humanity, it makes Martha think about what would happen if she refuses, or what she would do if she were to make that choice, which also shows the motif of power dynamics.

In the book ‘Kindred’, the motif of power dynamics is developed throughout the book through the different characters’ actions and the conflict between Dana and other characters such as Rufus. In the beginning, when Dana ‘teleported’ back into time to save Rufus, he was only 5 years old and despite Dana saving Rufus from death, she was put at gunpoint by Rufus’ father. Later on, she teleported back to Rufus, but this time with Kevin because at the time she was touching Kevin. They both had to live in the Weilyn’s home, making little money in order to be able to escape with more privilege with the power of money. Dana, however, was put to work and was treated like a slave, but not exactly one. Tom and Rufus knew she was off, she wasn’t from here, wasn’t a slave and has the power to ‘kill’ Rufus, or let him die. Tom lets her have a little power to do somethings she wants, doing little to none work, which starts the power dynamics. Tom knew she was educated, meaning she knows how to read and write, in this case, better than Tom can. That posed a threat to any slave owner because if they had a slave that can write, they can write a pass that allows them to go anywhere they want. Meaning slaves could escape using Dana, which means that Tom could potentially loose slaves and money. Tom doesn’t want her to let his slaves free/help them escape but he also doesn’t want her to hate them, causing Rufus to die without Dana there to save him. Tom catches Dana reading a book, and warns her to not read anymore unless asked to read for Rufus and stay away from the library. But she proceeds to start teaching the kids (slaves) to read and write and to take books from the library and is caught and punished by Tom with a whip. “‘I told you to stop reading’, - Tom Weilyn said. ‘But you continue to steal a book!’”. After the whipping, even though ‘she got off easy’, that made Dana become afraid of Tom, and the Whip. Its already been months since she got there and she doesn’t know when she will be able to go back so she makes a desperate attempt to escape. All this connects to the motif of power dynamics because Dana, though she has power, Tom has more physical power than Dana, but if you fast forward in the future, when Rufus is about to die, if Dana is there and cares about Rufus, she can save him no matter what. If she doesn’t want to save him based on what happens, Rufus dies which causes a big conflict between the two, though it’s not seen directly.

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In the short story ‘The Book of Martha’, the motif of power dynamics, is developed in the text because Martha, the main character, met God who can do anything he wants to do to the world, who asked her to make one change about the world to save it. Martha was born into a Mother who was age 14 and couldn’t read, was poor and homeless most of the time. It would seem like an easy task to do, but for any choice she might make, it might affect people or a certain group of people without knowing it. They may die, which causes Martha to not want to do the task, but then she thinks of if the task was to be given to another person with tainted thoughts, and what they would do to the world for enjoyment. “She thought of some of these—people who would be happy to wipe out whole segments of the population whom they hated and feared, or people who would set up vast tyrannies that forced everyone into a single mold, no matter how much suffering that created. And what about those who would treat the work as fun—as nothing more than a good-guys-versus-bad-guys computer game, and damn the consequences”. This revealed how Martha thought of the job, if she doesn’t do it that would happen but if she does, people might die and she would be the one to blame. That quote reveals the motif of power dynamics because she would have the power to change something to make the world a better place for everyone, but then if that power goes to the wrong hands if she declines, that can end up being bad for the world, so then it’s up to her to make the right choice, or what seems like the right choice.

In the two texts, ‘Kindred’ and ‘The Book of Martha’, they both deal with the motif of power dynamics similarly by using the character’s background/history, comparing it to the current time/the plot. In ‘Kindred’, Dana is an African American writer. Being African American plays a big role in the book since Dana and Kevin go back into the time of slavery. If she were to be white, she wouldn’t go through all that torture, she would be free without any fear. But since she is African American, since at the time slavery was discrimination towards the black people, she was treated unfairly/poorly, given barley any power as she struggles to find an escape. In ‘The Book of Martha’, it deals with the motif of power dynamics by also using background and/or the character’s history (Martha) and based off that gives her an opportunity to change the world. She was originally born into a Mother, 14, who barely knew how to read. They were homeless and poor most of the time. Martha pursued a writing career to help support their lives. Both the characters in each text have some commonalities, both being African American and writers affects the whole display of how power dynamics were dealt with. However, the motif of power dynamics were dealt with differently based on the time period, setting and plot of the stories. In ‘Kindred’, the time period was the late 1800’s which also plays as a big factor in the book. The setting also shows how different the two stories would deal with it, being in ‘Kindred’, they lived in a white-owned house and plantation, meaning in the South and more slavery. In ‘The Book of Martha’ the setting appears to be in her home and in ‘heaven’ you can say. They also both deal with different problems. Dana has the problem of slavery and mistreatment, and Martha simply has the problem of power, what it will do if its either used in her hands or used in other people’s hands.

To conclude, this is the reason why in the two stories ‘Kindred’ and ‘The Book of Martha’, Octavia Butler develops a motif in each text of power dynamics and the similarities and differences in each text of how the motif was dealt with. In the book ‘Kindred’, the motif is developed the motif of power dynamics through Dana and Rufus’ action and conflict also between other characters. In ‘The Book of Martha’ Butler developed the motif of power dynamics by putting power into a woman that was in the lowest class, African American, mother was 14 years old when she gave birth and were homeless and poor. Butler used that in the book and based on what God had given her, the power to change the world, it creates an issue in Martha’s head about the issue of power and what could go wrong when given to the wrong person. Both books also deal with the issue similarly and differently, similarly being that they both have a really similar character background being both African American women and writers. They deal with it differently because of the setting/time period of the book, ‘Kindred’ is in the late 1800’s meaning time of slavery and ‘The Book of Martha’ was being dealt with in the ‘modern’ time.

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Motif of Power Dynamics in ‘Kindred’ and ‘The Book of Martha’ by Octavia Butler. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/motif-of-power-dynamics-in-kindred-and-the-book-of-martha-by-octavia-butler/
“Motif of Power Dynamics in ‘Kindred’ and ‘The Book of Martha’ by Octavia Butler.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/motif-of-power-dynamics-in-kindred-and-the-book-of-martha-by-octavia-butler/
Motif of Power Dynamics in ‘Kindred’ and ‘The Book of Martha’ by Octavia Butler. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/motif-of-power-dynamics-in-kindred-and-the-book-of-martha-by-octavia-butler/> [Accessed 5 Mar. 2024].
Motif of Power Dynamics in ‘Kindred’ and ‘The Book of Martha’ by Octavia Butler [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2024 Mar 5]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/motif-of-power-dynamics-in-kindred-and-the-book-of-martha-by-octavia-butler/
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