Dana is happy to wake up next to Kevin. He gently chides her for slitting her wrists and says a friend who helped her suggested she that needs to see a psychiatrist; she finds this amusing. It has been three hours since she’s been away, corresponding to eight months in the past. They talk for a few minutes about what she experienced, both shying away from actually saying anything about her needing to kill Rufus, although this is what they both insinuate.
Fifteen days pass and they manage their time together well; the separation was not too harmful for their relationship. Kevin does try to probe what Rufus may have done to Dana, wondering if he had raped her. She explains that Rufus maintained fear of her because he knew she could kill him by turning away, and wouldn’t rape her because he knew she loved Kevin. She wonders what will happen to him and to her.
On the Fourth of July Kevin wants to go out with their friends but Dana is unsure. The dizziness sets in, though, and she ends up on the ground. Rufus is there, and surprised, asks why she is here. He looks haggard and tired. She looks up and sees what he sees: Alice hanging from the barn rafters.
Dana learns from Sarah that Rufus sold Alice’s children after she had to escape. When Dana talks to Rufus, though, she learns he had just sent them to Baltimore to scare her, and had never intended to sell them. Dana is furious, and tells him that he killed Alice. She instructs him to provide two certificates of freedom to the children.
There is a funeral and a dinner the next day. Dana sits in the library afterward so she can be alone and write. She destroys this writing and never shows anyone, not even Kevin.
Rufus travels to Baltimore and brings the children back. Dana is surprised to hear Joe call Rufus “Daddy.”
Over time Dana tries to push Rufus gently to free all his slaves. He indicates that he thinks she would kill him to free his slaves, but to her surprise she’d never thought of that before. He mentions he has dreams about her leaving him. This makes her uncomfortable. He begs her to trust him, which she also finds makes her squirm. A bit piqued, he says his dad and Alice told him she was dangerous.
After a moment he brings up Sam (the slave who had flirted with her at Christmas), and Dana says that he had done nothing. Rufus replies he wanted her, making her think Rufus does as well. Bitterly, he tries to acknowledge Dana leaving, and wishes he’d shot Kevin. He steps close to her and says she is like Alice. Dana orders him to release her. His grief is palpable and he seems to want death, although not alone.
Dana leaves the room and heads to the attic to grab her bag, especially the knife. Rufus follows her there and sits next to her, saying he is sorry. This makes her wonder if he means he is sorry for before, or for what he will do now. It seems real, though, and he says sadly that he is lonesome.
They quarrel for a bit and Dana thinks of how easy it is to forgive him, maybe even for this. She knows she would never be in Tess’s position, simply passed around.
Suddenly, though, she realizes it can never be. She can never accept him as a lover. She brings the knife down and stabs him. As he dies, Nigel arrives and looks around in shock. Rufus clamps down on her arm and it feels like it is meshing with something–the wall of her house. She wrenches it away in unbelievable, agonizing pain.
When she is well, Dana flies with Kevin to Maryland and rent a car. They look at the town where the Weylins lived but the house is gone. The archives show that the house burned down, and claim that is how Rufus died; Dana speculates it was Nigel, covering up what she did. There are some sales listed, but not Nigel, Carrie, Joe, or Hagar. Sarah and everyone else were sold. Margaret Weylin seems to have gotten out of the house alive. Maybe she even accepted her grandchildren, Dana muses.
Dana is regretful of the cost of killing Rufus but Kevin tells her there is nothing she could do to change that. She touches her scar on her face and the place where her arm was, wondering why she even wanted to come here, thinking that perhaps she had had enough of the past. Kevin speculates she needed to understand, touch solid evidence, and make sure these people existed and that she and he are sane.
Dana travels back to the Weylin plantation for the last time. It is Rufus’s grief that summons her, though his life is not in immediate danger. Alice is dead and now Rufus will turn his attention to Dana, which causes her to kill him and fully sever their connection. Also severed is Dana’s arm, a symbol of how she is cannot emerge from this journey into the past unscathed. She is also wounded psychologically because of what happened to the community she was a part of, which is one of the most important themes of the novel.
As critic Lisa Yaszek writes, Butler initially conceived of her hero as male and changed it because she did not think the heroic male loner figure could truly exist within slavery, and it would be better to focus on families and kin (hence the name of the novel). Dana has to come to understand how the past is both raced and gendered; the example of how Weylin comes into the cookhouse where he is not supposed to be (in Dana’s opinion) shows how she forgot that “the cookhouse is a both black and feminine space…that is subject to masculine surveillance and penetration.” Contemporary black women have to learn to reassess their relationship with history, Butler believes, and the moment with Carrie acknowledging the complexity of Dana and her situation is a telling indicator of that. Dana is “the alien other of American history…and is deeply marked by–but at the same time an undisputed survivor of–that same history.”
At the very end of the novel, Dana understands how real history is actually formed. She, as Yaszek writes, “pieces together an alternate family history based on her newfound understanding of historical representation itself as a kind of mutable structure informed by multiple sources: official historical ‘fact,’ its commercially oriented counterpart, and, of course, those personal and social experiences outside dominant modes of representation.”
Critic Ashraf H.A. Rushdy considers the novel in light of memory, which he sees as being “transformative to the degree of literally translating the remembering subject into the past.” Dana’s memories are performances that are relevant because most African Americans’ history is unwritten. The toll it takes is seen in the loss of her arm–a physical scarring–as well as the psychological toll. Rushdy claims that the loss of her arm is less a commentary on the brutalizing aspects of slavery than one on how coming to terms with the past necessitates losing a grip on the present. Remembering can be dangerous.
Rushdy also considers home and family in his analysis. Home is not just a place, he writes: “it signifies the liminal site where one can lose or reclaim a historically-defined modern self.” Dana and Kevin are disturbed that they feel like the Weylin planation is home, and also wonder why they have such a hard time fitting into their home in Altadena. Even writing, which both Dana and Kevin considered a “home” of sorts, fails to deliver the sort of consistent comfort it once did. Dana learns that the terms “home” and “kindred” are not givens in “a world where history is contingent” and that new definitions based on shared narratives as well as common blood are necessary.