Kindred Summary and Analysis of The Fight


The narrative returns to the story of Dana and Kevin’s history. They had decided to get married after dating for four months, and discussed whether their families would be okay with their mixed-race marriage. Kevin did not think his sister would have a problem, but sadly and surprisingly to him, she did. Dana’s aunt and uncle were also wary; her aunt perhaps being fine because of the possibility of light-skinned children, but her uncle upset because he thought she should marry a black man. They ended up going to Vegas and getting married, then returning to their apartment. A check for Dana’s first published story was waiting upon their return.

Returning to the main narrative, Dana wakes up in her own home, her blouse cut up and stuck to her. Kevin is not there. Pain is ever-present but she washes herself and sleeps. She is miserable, wondering about Kevin’s fate.

She prepares in case she is called back to the past again, readying her clothes and bag. She tosses a paperback history of slavery with maps of Maryland into the bag.

Everything feels surreal, today and yesterday not making any sense together. Dana realizes she’d been gone for two months but came back the same day she’d left. She considers writing about what happened but cannot, and throws away the pages.

Afraid to leave the house, she stays indoors and has a cousin bring her food. She reads one of Kevin’s WWII books, saddened by the similarities between antebellum whites and Nazis.

It is eight days before the dizziness returns and she finds herself back in Rufus’s time. She is thrown into a scene of a white man losing a fight to a black man while a black girl, her clothes ripped, looks on. The black man knocks Rufus (the white man) out.

Dana urgently speaks to the black man and warns him he shouldn't kill this white man. The black girl begs him–Isaac–not to kill Rufus, and to run away instead. Dana realizes this girl is Alice, and Alice remembers Dana as well. Alice had married Isaac last year before her mother died. Rufus had been trying to seduce her.

Dana says she will stay with Rufus but will not tell him where Isaac and Alice go. Alice softly tells Dana that Kevin went away after waiting a long time for her–somewhere North. Dana starts wondering where he might have gone.

Dana tends to Rufus’s wounds and waits for him to wake after Isaac and Alice flee. She wonders if he is still the boy she knew, and hopes he will see that the two of them need each other.

Rufus opens his eyes and recognizes her. He tries to sit up but can’t, and groans that he needs to know where Isaac is because he has to pay. Dana can see he has been drinking. She tells him seriously that he needs to say that white men beat him up; he needs to repay Alice and her for having his life from Isaac. He is bewildered and exhausted. She asks if he actually raped Alice, and he says no. She wonders why he would do this if they used to be friends, and he says, frustrated, that she would not give in to him. He does not care that she will be a slave if she is caught; he plans to buy her with no regard to Isaac. Dana is disgusted but she starts to see that he is actually in love with Alice, which in this society is more shameful than just wanting to rape her.

It seems like Rufus has broken ribs but Dana does not want to leave him without some sort of understanding. She needs him to help with finding Kevin, and he agrees. He tells her how to go get help for him, and she heads off to the road.

When Dana gets close to the house, she is surprised to think of it as home. She rubs her scars to help her remember the truth about it, but concedes there is some comfort in just embracing this reality for now.

A white man approaches her and she tells him about Rufus. To her surprise, he curses Rufus but takes her to the house. There she runs into Carrie, now grown up and pregnant. They embrace.

Weylin comes in, a little grayer and grimmer now. He looks at Dana and asks what happened, then tells the man–Jake–to send for the doctor. A wagon comes around to take them out to Rufus, and Dana is pleased to see Nigel in it.

They find Rufus and take him back. Weylin looks closely at Dana and seems to be angry, not grateful, about Rufus. He softens when she asks about Kevin, and says “the damn fool” (130) went north. He grudgingly says Dana can stay there but will work by taking care of Rufus. She wonders what Kevin did to earn the moniker of “damn fool.”

Dana takes care of Rufus but he grows sick. Sarah comes to say hello and whispers that Margaret had left for Baltimore, adding she’d tell Dana more later on. Dana grabs her modern medicine and talks briefly to Nigel, intimating that Isaac and Alice got away.

The next day Dana sits with Rufus as he eats. They talk amiably, Dana telling him a bit about her time traveling. He points her to some of Kevin’s letters in a drawer, and says he will mail a letter if Dana writes one.

Weylin and the doctor come in, and Dana remembers how much she hates the ignorant and condescending physician. She leaves and goes to the cookhouse to see Sarah, who tells her about how Margaret left after the death of two more babies. She seems crazy now. The white man is Jake Edwards, Margaret’s cousin and the new overseer.

From Rufus, Dana also learns Luke was sold, and realizes his independent attitude did not work out for him as she had thought it would. Nigel had run off as well but was brought back.

While Dana writes her letter to Kevin, Rufus picks up her book on slavery and begins to read. He grows incensed and says it is abolitionist trash, but Dana tries to explain it is about stuff that hasn’t happened yet. He says she ought to throw it in the fire because if his father saw it she would be in trouble. Dana understands but thinks about the repressiveness of this society that burns books like the Nazis. Rufus even suggests she put the map from the book in the fire as well, which she sees as blackmail of a sort. They squabble a bit, but Dana grudgingly throws the map in, reasoning that she knows how to use the North Star anyway.

Isaac and Alice have four days together before they are caught. Dana does not know about it right away, but one day Rufus leaves to go into town to get Alice.

While Rufus is gone Sarah and Dana talk, and Dana wonders why Sarah chastises other slaves and is mean to them. Sarah does not push back against slavery too much, claiming that things aren’t so bad here. Dana realizes that if Sarah were around in the 1960s, the militants of the black power movement would hold her in contempt. Dana is unsettled that she also finds herself feeling morally superior to Sarah, but this soon passes.

Rufus brings Alice in the wagon and Dana is shocked–“Alice lay bloody, filthy, and barely alive” (146). He explains he paid twice what she was worth, but bought her. He begs Dana to help her. Rufus suggests using an old slave named Aunt Mary to help, but Dana is incredulous, as the woman barely knows her name sometimes. Dana will have to use brine as her medicine, although she is very nervous about it working as she is not exactly trained in these things.

Rufus, growing afraid for the woman he loves, stubbornly asks to see Dana’s back to see if she had taken care of her own wounds. He is a little surprised at the scars.

Dana tends to Alice, lying in Rufus’s bed. He says Isaac was sold to Mississippi; Dana is sad to hear this. Rufus climbs into bed next to Alice but says he will not do anything inappropriate. The situation is frustrating for Dana, since Alice will wake up and have lost her husband and be enslaved, while Rufus is not punished at all for his actions.

Later Sarah tells Dana that they cut Isaac’s ears off. Dana is stunned and curses Rufus, but Sarah hushes her and tells her to be quiet. They talk about Kevin a bit and Sarah warns her to follow up and make sure Rufus actually sent the letters. She is a bit worried about Dana and Rufus’s relationship, but Dana tells her not to be.

Dana asks Rufus how long the letter to Kevin will take, and he seems annoyed by her query.

Alice is now a full-time job for Dana. She is like a child, incontinent, not remembering anything yet. Her body is healing and she does not yet have any antipathy towards Rufus. After about three weeks she wants to sleep in the attic and Rufus agrees.

Dana and Alice talk occasionally and Alice does not yet see that she is a slave, which makes Dana sad for her. Alice gets the sense Dana knows something and begs her to tell her the truth. The news about being a slave, committing a crime, and Isaac’s fate shatters her, and she is morose. All she can do is cry, pray, and curse at Dana, calling her a “doctor-nigger” and a “white nigger” (160).

Dana leaves her alone for a while and heads to help Carrie, who is now having her baby. Her friend Tess, a woman in the cookhouse whom Weylin was bedding, covers for her.

Carrie’s baby is named Jude, and even Weylin is happy because he owns one more slave.

Dana tells Rufus she wants to write and send Kevin another letter and he reluctantly agrees. However, he is rude to her about Kevin and she is frustrated with him because he says he plans to have sex with Alice. Dana’s responses make him angry and he yells at her that she thinks he is white and thinks she owns him because she saved his life. He tells her she needs to convince Alice to give in to him or he’d have to beat her; Dana sees that “he had all the low cunning of his class” (164).

Alice is strange now, sometimes nice to Dana, sometimes blaming her, erratic and angry. She is healing, though, and seems to enjoy children and sewing. She even gives Dana a blue dress she’d made for her.

When Dana haltingly tells her about Rufus and his plan to sleep with her whether she likes it or not, Alice grows bitter and criticizes Dana again. Dana wearily tells her she does not have many options. Alice feels poorly for treating Dana so meanly and asks if Dana would submit if she were in the same position. Dana says no, but Alice decides she cannot resist by running away right now.

Dana goes to Rufus and seems to die a little. Kevin does not write or come for Dana.

Rufus beats Alice occasionally and seems to know he can control Dana through bullying others. Dana starts to plan her own escape. Alice gives her the final push when she shows Dana two letters she’d found in Rufus’s room–the ones to Kevin, unsent.

Dana dresses like a boy and leaves that night. She is doing well for a time but suddenly hears Weylin and Rufus on horseback. They eventually find Dana, and Weylin kicks her in the face. She blacks out.

She wakes up and Rufus is there. He whispers that she is a fool. He picks her up and puts her own his horse to take her back to the house. She tries to run again but is in too much pain to make it far.

At the barn she is tied up and whipped. She hopes the pain will send her home but deep down she knows her life is not in danger; rather, this is just punishment.

Alice takes care of her, and Dana sorrowfully realizes both she and Alice were failures as runaways. She wonders if she will try again, and blurts that out to Alice. Alice hushes her and tells her she needs to heal.

Dana discovers that another slave, Liza, told on her when she tried to escape. She is surprised she has enemies there, but Alice and Sarah hurt Liza to keep her afraid.

Rufus visits her and hands her a letter from Kevin saying he is coming. It turns out that Weylin had found out his son never sent the letters, and his own sense of right and wrong was offended so he sent them himself. Dana asks why he lied, but knows that somewhere in him, Rufus loves her fiercely. They could not truly hate each other because they know they could hurt each other so much.

Dana returns to helping Carrie and Sarah. Tess, now forced to sleep with the overseer Edwards, is sent to work in the fields. She cries bitterly. Dana is supposed to do the wash now but it is so painful for her that Alice comes to help.

They see a gray-bearded white man on horseback approaching, and to Dana’s shock, it is Kevin. He looks older and harder, his face lined and scarred. She wonders how she looks. He tells her to grab her things and she obeys. She is filled with joy at seeing him again.

As they prepare to leave Rufus confronts them and says Kevin cannot take her away without a goodbye. Taking out his rifle, he threateningly says Kevin ought to stay for dinner before they go. Dana starts to think this might send her back, and she grabs Kevin’s hand. She refuses to go and sees Rufus getting more apoplectic with anger. He might actually shoot, she realizes. She jumps off the mare to get away from the gun, falls and grabs for Kevin. The dizziness ascends.


In this long middle section, Dana encounters Rufus as a young adult and realizes that despite her earlier attempts to mold him a positive manner, he has grown into exactly the man he was destined to be: callous, cunning, capricious, and desirous of wielding his power over his inferiors. He is no longer friends with Alice, but rather is her persecutor, master, and rapist. He is still somewhat aware of Dana’s importance to him, but he grows more obsessed with her and attempts to control her as much as he can. This includes beating her when she runs away, lying to her about sending the letters to Kevin, enlisting her “help” in having Alice go to him and manipulating her by threatening others, and then finally forbidding her to leave with Kevin.

Now that Alice is a young woman roughly Dana’s age, the fact that they are like the same woman is even more apparent. This doubling is key to the text, for Alice is not only her actual ancestor but also a version of her in terms of personality, selfhood, and relationship with Rufus. Dana and Alice look alike, and also experience similar beatings, vacillations of emotion and difficulties in terms of embracing their subordinate position in society, and Rufus’s attempts to subdue and possess them. Both try running away, both are sometimes shunned by other slaves, and both eventually take matters in their own hands with decisive actions–Alice kills herself, and Dana kills Rufus.

One of the things that both women know, as mentioned above, is that their bodies are inextricably part of their experience as slaves. Scholar Benjamin Robertson writes that for Butler, history is “immanent in and inseparable from the bodies of those who experience it. Bodies forge and maintain–in fact areconnections with the past.” This is the “some matching strangeness” Dana identifies between her and Rufus, and we can also extend it to Alice. In this novel the body “is the vehicle through which slavery and its history can be understood.” Dana’s body physically moves through time and space, and bears the marks of this experience; she now has scars and one less arm. Robertson writes “the physical imprint, the index, of nearly four hundred years of American race relations (not to mention gender relations), and two hundred years of the institutional denial of those relations, manifest in a visible wound.” Even as Dana will grow older and leave this experience behind, her body will always be marked by that history she is a part of.

In this section called “The Fight,” it is clear Dana is learning to fight in ways that may have surprised her in 1976. She is becoming part of her environment in ways she can no longer deny, becoming desensitized to violence and realizing that certain decisions she never would have made in the present are unfortunately all she can do in this time period. Victory may have to take a backseat to survival, and certain choices are less moral than pragmatic. Robert Crossley writes of Dana’s acquiescence to Rufus’s “request” that she tell Alice to go to him that “the choice demanded by the situation will satisfy neither Dana’s own internal standards nor the larger feminist principle of sisterhood; she suffers the same shame that [Harriet] Jacobs felt, but she also adopts the compromise.”

Dana’s melding of the past and the present is a commentary on how not much has changed over time. When back in her own library, she picks up one of Kevin’s WWII books and is struck by the similarities between the antebellum slaveowners and the Nazis. Butler reminds us of how the 20th century is rife with racism and oppression in ways that should seem disconcerting in this more “modern” and putatively tolerant century.