"We're going to have to fit in as best we can with the people here for as long as we have to stay. That means we're going to have to play the roles you gave us."
At the beginning of this journey Dana and Kevin know very little about what is happening and why, but they know that they need to fit in as best they can. They concoct roles for themselves that, to an extent, mirror their current-day situation. Dana "belongs" to Kevin as his slave in the 19th century, just as she "belongs" to him as his wife in the 20th. Patriarchy is present in both centuries, though it manifests itself differently. These roles are also the first of many that characters will don and define throughout the novel. Disguise is a part of slavery, as people cannot develop a true self without keeping things hidden.
But I would help him as best i could. And I would try to keep friendship with him, maybe plant a few ideas in his mind that would help both me and the people who would be his slaves in the years to come. I might even be making things easier for Alice.
Dana is rather naive here, thinking that her experience of living in the putatively more tolerant and progressive 20th century will help her instill positive values in Rufus and to an extent counteract the deleterious effects of slavery. She privileges her own time period and her own strength, forgetting that this reality of 1815-1824 is not to be taken lightly, and that slavery's role in society is pervasive, all-encompassing, and insidious. Rufus will not grow up to be the exception to the rule; he will be just as capricious, cruel, ill educated, and controlling as his father.
The place, the time would either kill him outright or mark him somehow.
Dana is justifiably worried that Kevin will be affected by the 19th century. She turns out to be correct, for when Kevin is left in the 1800s for five years, he is marked both physically and psychologically. There is a scar on his forehead and his demeanor is changed. It is clear he was involved in violence, but many details are left unclear to the reader. He also began to resemble, in Dana's mind, Rufus and Tom in his expressions and voice. As a white man, Kevin is not victimized by the era as Dana is, but it would be wrong to say he is unmarked.
But Margaret Weylin still rushed everywhere. She had little or nothing to do.
Margaret Weylin is a perfect example of how white women suffered under slavery as well, despite their position of power over their slaves. Margaret thinks she is a lady and wants to act as one, but she is uncouth and ill educated. She knows her husband sleeps with his slaves and her son gets frustrated with her; she also knows her slaves do not respect her and she has no real role in the household. This prompts her to wield her power capriciously, for it is all she has. She can content herself that she is better off than those slaves who work for her.
And I began to realize why Kevin and I had fitted in so easily into this time. We weren't really in. We were observers watching a show. We were watching history happen around us. And we were actors.
Dana and Kevin think they are actors, watching a historical show and remaining voyeurs, spectators. However, this is not tenable. They cannot just watch. They must be agents and participants; they must stop pretending that their 20th century existence can help them navigate this alien world, and instead immerse themselves. For Dana, this means embracing her community of slaves, reading signs and cues, staying true to herself but helping others, and learning to redefine family and home. She has to let the past in, even if it is painful.
"Then let's go to Las Vegas and pretend we haven't got any relatives."
Dana and Kevin live in 1976, arguably a progressive time period. The Civil Rights Movement and Black Power have transformed the lives of African Americans, and miscegenation laws that would have prevented Dana and Kevin's union are gone. Dana controls her own sexuality, works where she pleases, and speaks her mind. However, Butler reminds her readers that the 1970s are not exactly that far removed from earlier eras. Both Dana and Kevin's families object to their marriage, so Dana and Kevin have to navigate their disapproval and define "kin" in an entirely new way. Butler asks her readers to compare and contrast race and gender relations in the eras of slavery and the present.
"She'll probably be all right. Her body will anyway."
Dana is Alice's nurse, tending to her physical wounds and helping her come to terms with her new life as slave and Rufus's mistress. Her comment here to Sarah crystallizes the fact that a slave's body is a template on which slavery is written. Slaves’ bodies are not their own; they are a site for violence and control. Bodies can heal, though, and look as if they are whole. The mind, as Alice reveals throughout the novel, is a very different thing. Alice's mind is forever altered. Her emotions are tempestuous, her fury palpable and her sorrow deep. It is also still mostly her own, though, and while she can submit her body to Rufus, she will not submit her mind. It is bruised and battered, but she keeps it for herself.
Was I getting so used to being submissive?
As Dana settles in to her life on the Weylin plantation, she has to negotiate what being a slave really means. She quickly learns that the ways she used to act in the 20th century do not work here. She begins to see how men and women can become inured to their situation, become complacent and quiet, and become content just to make it through a day. Resistance is different than she once thought; her changing opinion on Sarah exemplifies this. Submission cannot be easily condemned or understood, given its complexities.
Strangely, they seemed to like him, hold him in contempt, and fear him all at the same time. This confused me because I felt just the same mixture of emotions for him myself. I had thought my feelings were complicated because he and I had such a strange relationship.
Dana thinks she is special, and that her relationship with Rufus is unique. Once she realizes this is not the case, she is shocked. She has to learn to understand that slavery does not value the individual; slavery does not tend to produce singularity. The community is more important than the individual because it nurture, sustains, and survives. Dana is not the heroine she thinks she is and does not understand the slaves as much as she might think she does. This is all part of what she learns from her journeys.
"You probably needed to come for the same reason I did...To try to understand. To touch solid evidence that those people existed. To reassure yourself that you're sane."
At the end of the novel there are questions and there are answers, but Kevin's words are a poignant and fitting end. The past and the present must be considered together. History cannot be conceived as separate from lived experience. People are not just names in record books; they can be touched and understood. There is a new understanding of ‘kindred’ as well, for Kevin and Dana know that home is not just a place, and family is more than the people to whom you are related by blood.
Kindred Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Kindred is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.