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Kindred is a 1979 novel by Octavia Butler. While most of Butler's work is classified as science fiction, Kindred is often shelved in literature or African-American literature and Butler herself categorized it as "a kind of grim fantasy" [256171].

Plot summary

The novel tells the story of Edana (Dana) Franklin, an African American woman living in 1976 Pasadena, CAmarker who, on her twenty-sixth birthday, begins the first of six involuntary journeys back in time to Marylandmarker's Eastern Shore in the antebellum South. She soon finds out that she has been unconsciously summoned (through means that are never fully explained) by Rufus Weylin, a young white boy who is the son of a slave owner, Tom Weylin, and her distant ancestor. Rufus calls for Dana whenever he feels his life is in danger, from the time he is a child through to adulthood, forcing Dana to rescue him from the perceived immediate threat. But the cost is dear: Dana must also guarantee her own future survival by learning to exist on the plantation as a slave, taking steps to ensure that one of her black ancestors on the plantation, Alice, herself the daughter of a free woman, eventually has a child with Rufus that will become Dana's direct ancestor.

Time travel

On each occasion that Dana travels back in time, her stay on the plantation becomes longer, though she is only gone from the present intitially ranging from a period of several minutes to finally, several hours. Apparently, Dana only can go back in time when circumstances surrounding Rufus' survival dictate it, as perceived by him; her travels are also constrained to returning to the Weylin plantation, and not other venues. Conversely, Dana's only means of returning to the present is when she is sufficiently frightened and believes herself to be in danger of dying. It is only after she kills Rufus towards novel's end that her travels cease, but not without a price: on her last trip back to the present, she re-materializes in 1976 with her left arm embedded in the plaster wall of her house. The arm is later amputated to the elbow. Dana also is able to transport objects and even people back in time with her, as is shown when she transports a denim bag of useful items (including a knife, a change of clothes, pens, various toiletries and paper) tied around her waist with her, and her husband, Kevin, when he grabs onto her before she vanishes on her third trip, and falls on her during their return later in the novel.

Author's quotes

"I was trying to get people to feel slavery," Butler said in a 2004 interview. "I was trying to get across the kind of emotional and psychological stones that slavery threw at people." [256172] In another interview, she said, "I think people really need to think what it's like to have all of society arrayed against you." [256173]

The book is set on Marylandmarker's Eastern Shore. Butler said she chose the setting "because I wanted my character to have a legitimate hope of escape," and because two famous African-Americans, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, had been enslaved there. [256174]

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