Kindred Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Damaged Bodies (Symbol)

Kevin's scar and Dana's scar and arm are symbolic of how one cannot travel into the past without being marked by it; these are sacrifices that must be made, and these characters cannot be whole in the same way afterwards.

Writing and Reading (Motif)

Writing and reading are prominent motifs. Both Dana and Kevin are writers. Dana teaches reading and writing, tries to read books when stuck in the past, and also writes for herself. Writing and reading are liberating acts: they are subtle and not-so-subtle ways to gain and assert power within a society that marginalizes people based on race and/or gender.

Violence (Motif)

Violence is a motif threaded throughout the narrative. It is a means to control, to diminish, to frighten, and to establish a sense of self through eradicating that of another. Violence is carried out with whips, fists, words, gestures, and psychological terror.

Dana's Map (Symbol)

Dana's map, taken from her 20th century book on slavery, symbolizes her connection to the present. It symbolizes safety, surety, and an easy navigation through the past back to the present. When Rufus destroys it, though, Dana must fully rely on herself and immerse herself in the past.

Transformed Identity (Motif)

Role-playing, doubling, and disguise are common motifs in the novel. Dana and Alice are doubles; Dana dresses up like a man; Dana pretends to be a slave. Kevin plays a role, and Kevin also reminds Dana of Rufus and Tom. These motifs suggest the fungibility of identity and selfhood in a time of chattel slavery.