Dana’s Experiences in “Kindred” Exemplify the Theme “Everything is connected”





Dana’s Experiences in “Kindred” Exemplify the Theme “Everything is connected”

Part 1

The novel Kindred by Octavia Butler is about an African-American woman, called Dana, who is mysteriously summoned to the past through the will of a white man named Rufus. The callings appear to happen when Rufus is in mortal danger, and they result in Dana having to save him or take actions that will influence his and the lives of the people around him. Rufus lives on a farm in the state of Maryland in the United States, and whenever he appears to summon Dana, she appears only at the ranch. Butler never reveals the technicalities behind the callings in the novel.

Whenever Rufus summons Dana, she is drawn into the 1800s, which is the age in which Rufus lives. Rufus’ family owns a large ranch and many slaves who work on that farm. Dana happens to be of African descent, and every time she goes to the past, the white people of the time subject her to the same ill-treatment as the slaves on the farm. Dana narrates the story in first-person so that the reader can get a chance to experience what it was like to be a slave in the United States. Dana’s experiences are worsened by the fact that she is pulled from the 1970s, an era where African-Americans were granted equal rights as white-Americans, to the 1800s, an age where people of African descent have very few civil liberties and are mostly regarded as property.

Butler’s use of a modern day protagonist to explore an occurrence from the past helps the reader understand the true evils of slavery. Dana’s experiences in the 1800s show how difficult life was for African-American people during that age. These difficulties are even more obvious when compared to Dana’s modern life in the 1970s. One situation that shows the differences between the 1970s and the 1800s occurs when Rufus is drowning in a river, and he unwittingly summons Dana. Dana arrives at the river to find Rufus already unconscious and about to drown, and she saves his life. However, Rufus’ parents are hostile to her, a fact that becomes obvious when Rufus’ father points a shotgun at Dana’s face. Dana’s reaction to seeing the gun exemplifies the differences between her life in the seventies and the life of an African-American woman in the 1800s. “I turned, startled, and found myself looking down the barrel of the longest rifle I had ever seen … I froze, thinking I was going to be shot for saving the boy’s life” (Butler 14). Her reaction suggests that she had never had a gun pointed at her before. Conversely, the fact that Rufus father was carrying his shotgun around indicates that, in the 1800s, it was normal for people to threaten each other with firearms.

The book also shows the brutality of slavery when it gives Dana some relief by returning her to the 1970s. The reader is at one moment forced to go through Dana’s scarring experiences in the 1800s before getting a chance to see her recover in the 1970s. This makes one wonder what the experience was like for real slaves in ranches, in the 1800s. Unlike Dana, they are not able to get some temporary reprieve in a future home (Walton). Additionally, slave owners ruthlessly punish any slaves that attempt to escape. Dana’s descriptions of Alice’s injuries make the brutality of such punishments clear: “He led me to the wagon where Alice lay bloody, filthy, and barely alive” (Butler 146). Since escape was extremely dangerous, most slaves had to live their entire lives in captivity.

Octavia Butler’s Kindred also contains imagery. Mitchell argues that Dana’s movement from the 1970s to the 1800s is symbolic of the voyages that the slaves had to go through when their captors transported them from their homes into foreign lands. In both cases, the victims left homes that they were familiar with and were forced to stay in places where they were foreigners. They then had trouble acclimating themselves to their new locations and went through a great deal of suffering. Additionally, Dana’s travels were involuntary, which was the same for the slaves. Apart from the symbolism attached to it, the time travel in Kindred was simply a device to advance the plot, which is the reason why Butler did not bother to explain how it was possible for Dana to go to the past (Walton).

The theme “everything is connected” comes in through the connection that Dana had to Rufus. In the book, Dana and Rufus meet after he summoned her when he was about to die. Dana saves Rufus’ life and is then able to return to the future. However, at that time, neither of them is aware that Rufus is one of Dana’s ancestors. In events that occur later in the book, Dana convinces Alice to sleep with Rufus despite the fact that he raped her. The child that Rufus sires with Alice happens to be one of Dana’s direct ancestors. Both of these actions have a heavy effect on Dana’s future. Firstly, if she had not been able to save Rufus from drowning, then it is quite possible that she would have never existed. Secondly, she made it possible for Rufus to have a child with Alice and this action had a large impact on her own future. Since the time travel in the novel is not wholly explored, then alternative possibilities are not fully considered. This is to mean that the authoress does not explore the possibilities of Dana not undertaking those two key actions.

Dana also influences events occurring in the novel in ways that are not direct or obvious. One example of this is seen when she interferes in the fight between Rufus and Isaac. After Rufus had raped Alice, Isaac attacks him and knocks him out. At first, he seems intent on killing Rufus, but after Dana interferes, he decides against it. Dana’s narration of the scene indicates that she is aware that Rufus is her ancestor and that it was necessary for her to save Rufus’ life. However, by stopping the fight, she saves Rufus’ life as well as Alice’s. This is indicated in the exchange that she has with Isaac when she is trying to stop him from killing Rufus: “What will they do to the woman if you kill him? I asked. That seemed to reach him” (Butler 118). This exchange implies that if Isaac had killed Rufus, other whites would have executed him, and Alice and this would have prevented Dana’s ancestor from ever being born.

(Part 1 contains 1,097 words)

Part 2

The image selected to explain the theme is in a yahoo news article on the six degrees of separation theory. The article explains how all of the people in the world are, by way of introduction, only six people away from each other. The argument is that anybody can meet any other person in the world through a series of introductions that begin with one of the subject’s acquaintances or friends (Moon 1). Originally, the theory held that the maximum number of introductions needed to meet any other person is six. However, the onset of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter has reduced the chain of connections to four (Moon 1).

The image itself shows pictures of people on a white surface that are connected by a series of lines intersecting each other (Otis http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/faces-on-discs-randomly-connected-by-arrows-high-res-stock-photography/150415588). The lines create an intricate network and the pictures become nodes in that network. The purpose of the image is to show how people create connections with each other to form a complex network of friends and acquaintances. This image supports the theory of six degrees of separation.

Researchers, Stanley Milgram and Jeffrey Travers, first explored the theory in 1969. In their tests, they asked 296 people to send a letter to a stockbroker in New York through a chain of connections. Most of the letters failed to arrive, but the ones that did, averaged 6.2 links (Smith 1). John Guare then popularized the theory in a 1990 play that had the title Six Degrees of Separation. The principle behind the theory is that a person is one degree of separation away from everyone they are familiar with, two degrees away from anybody that their acquaintances know and so on. This theory is related to the theme “everything is connected” because it shows how all of the people in the world could be linked. In fact, the key idea behind the theory is similar to the theme (Smith 1).

The theory of six degrees of separation appeals to both ethos and logos. The appeal to logos comes through an understanding of how the world runs today. The age of globalization has brought different societies in the planet closer together. Inventions in the field of transport and communications have had large implications on our lives (Atabek 1). Firstly, they have made our lives easier. People are now able to communicate with relative ease, which means that it has become easy for people to run businesses and cooperate with each other. Developments in the field of transport have made it possible for people to travel to one end of the planet and back home in a few days, a journey that previously took explorers months to complete (Atabek). These innovations have made it possible for people to create friendships and networks with persons from different countries, societies and cultures.

The image selected can be used to explain the theory of six degrees of separation by appealing to ethos. When appealing to ethos, the main idea is usually to try to argue your case out by emphasizing your authority and honesty. In this case, to appeal to ethos, evidence that experts support would have to be presented to prove the theory. In 2008, researchers discovered that the theory stands true to a large extent. The researchers from Microsoft studied billions of electronic messages sent between approximately 180 million people. Their study was the first ever carried out on a planetary scale in an attempt to find out if the theory is concrete. The researchers, Eric Horvitz and Jure Leskovec, assumed that any two people who had sent a direct message to each other were acquaintances. They then tried to find the minimum chain lengths that it would take to connect 180 million pairs of users in their database. The researchers discovered that the average number of connections required to bring together two complete strangers was 6.6. Most people could be connected using less than seven steps while others needed 29.

(Part 2 contains 661 words)



Works Cited

Butler, Octavia E. Kindred. Boston: Beacon Press, 1988. Print.

Atabek, Umit. Comparative Global Communications Systems. Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2013.

Mitchell, Angelyn. The Freedom to Remember: Narrative, Slavery, and Gender in Contemporary Black Women’s Fiction. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 2002. Print.

Moon, Mariella. “Facebook lowers six degrees of separation to four”. Yahoo News. ABC News Network, 22 Nov. 2011. Web. 12 Sept. 2013

Otis, Dimitri. “Faces on discs randomly connected by arrows.” Photograph. Getty Images. n.p., n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2013. < http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/faces-on-discs-randomly-connected-by-arrows-high-res-stock-photography/150415588>

Smith, David. “Proof! Just six degrees of separation between us.” The guardian. n.p., 3 Aug. 2008. Web. 13 Sept. 2013.

Walton, Jo. “Time Travel and slavery; Octavia butler’s Kindred”. Tor.com. Macmillan, 21 April 2009. Web. 12 Sept. 2013.


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