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If All 2003: Discussion Points for Readers of Kindred

Discussion Points for Readers of Kindred


The Author & Her Craft

How does the title Kindred tell the story of Dana? How does it relate to the other characters? To our society as a whole?

What was Butler’s motivation in writing Kindred?

How does the prologue set up the story? Why does Butler use such a device? What tone does the first sentence of the Prologue set for your reading of the novel?

When Dana is first cast back into the past, what is she doing? What is the date? What does the author suggest by her use of this situation and date specifically? What is significant about the date of Dana’s return to the present for the last time?

Dana is unable to choose when she is sent to the past but Kevin has control over his travels. What significance does this have in the novel?

Dana and Kevin discuss how they cannot change history. Why, then, does Butler send Dana back in time, the driving narrative force of the novel? In terms of not altering history, could Dana have chosen not to save Rufus?

Many novels and films that delve into time travel share the narrative belief that characters should not change anything in the past so as not to disrupt the future. Does this hold true of Kindred? Why or why not?

Why do you think the author found it necessary to use a modern narrator to tell the story instead of having it all set in the past?

Kevin stays in the past for a much longer time than Dana ever does. Why does the author structure their experiences this way?

Butler has been quoted as saying she wrote Kindred so that readers could feel history as well as learn about the facts of it. How has she succeeded?

As she returns from the past for the last time, Dana loses an arm. What is the significance of such a graphic physical loss?

Why does the author have Dana go back and forth in time as opposed to just being thrust back to the plantation for the duration of the book?

Why is Kindred written in Dana’s voice (first person)?

Characters & Motivation

What sources of conflict have there been between Dana and her husband Kevin before Dana goes to the past? How do these conflicts affect them during their time in the past?

How do the characters in Kindred assume the roles assigned them? How do they resist?

What role does Rufus’s mother have in the formation of his character, and is Rufus strongly influenced by her?

Dana travels back in time to the plantation coming from a lifetime of being a free person in the modern world. She thus often finds herself acting in a cautionary or mothering way with the slaves. How does Dana try to resist this behavior and does she succeed?

How do the different plantation slaves react to their own circumstances and to Dana’s?

What are the similarities between Dana and Alice? Why is Dana able to survive while Alice is not?

Dana is cast back to antebellum Maryland to save the life of young Rufus, a slave owner’s son. As she repeatedly does so, staying longer and longer in the past and getting to know Rufus as he grows into a man, how does she influence him and his attitudes toward slavery?

What are your own reactions to Rufus and his actions as he grows into a man?

Butler is expert at creating characters that are complex and about whom readers might feel ambivalent. Which characters do you think most fit this description?

What are the similarities between Dana’s relationship with Rufus and her relationship with Kevin?

How do Dana and Kevin experience their time in the past differently? For example, when they witness a group of slave children acting out the scene of a slave auction, how do each of them react?

How have their respective experiences altered their relationship with each other—in the past and the present?

How do you think Dana’s future in the present will be affected by her experiences in the past? How about her relationship with Kevin?

Issues & Themes

Stereotypes are often addressed in Butler’s novels, including Kindred. In Kindred, how does the author, with her various characterizations, reveal the origins of stereotypes? How does she deflate them?

Elements of power being wielded over others is evident throughout Kindred, even among the slaves. What are some examples?

What is the difference between a house slave and a field slave? How does Dana understand and react to the distinctions? Are there any contemporary parallels?

What feelings are elicited in the different characters by Dana’s presence and her relationship to Rufus?

In each chapter of Kindred, Dana learns and experiences different things about the antebellum South and slavery. What are these different revelations?

Abusive behavior occurs throughout the book and is assumed by the police investigating Dana’s injury. In what ways does this novel address or illuminate issues of domestic violence?

Issues of difference are often addressed in Kindred. How does the author present various dichotomies such as black and white, master and slave? What other such differences does she challenge the reader to consider, and how?

In many of her science fiction novels, Butler deals with the otherness and alienness of individuals who find themselves in a foreign environment. How is this theme represented in Kindred?

When Dana returns with Kevin to the present day, she says that she “never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.” How does this reflect current attitudes about race and ethnicity?

Communication (or lack thereof) is a theme that runs throughout the novel. Consider Carrie, who is unable to speak, but can still “talk.” How do the different characters communicate with each other, especially over time?

In the same vein, there are many references in the novel to writing, from Kevin and Dana’s mutual efforts to be published writers in the present to the letters Dana writes to Kevin in the past, which Rufus hides. How is the act of writing by women held under the control of men in Kindred?

Butler addresses the complex issue of slavery on many levels, raising important questions. Consider these questions for yourself: How does physical slavery occur? How do people become mentally enslaved? What affect does slavery in our past have on our contemporary society?

What are the benefits of learning about our individual and collective past—even if the process is difficult or painful?

In her contemporary life, Dana is a temporary worker. Why do you think the author makes that the protagonist’s work? How does it serve as an analogy to her life on a slave plantation?

Dana states that “Rufus’s time was a sharper, stronger reality.” What does she mean?

Speculative Questions

How would the novel have worked if the narration had been written from a different character’s point of view?

The “modern” setting of the book is 1976. What symbolism or story elements might be lost or gained if it were set in 2003? What hasn’t changed?

If you were a slave on this plantation, what would be the most difficult thing for you to tolerate? What would you do to survive? Do you think Dana made the right decisions?

How would the story be different if Kevin were black?

In Kindred, how do the psychological affects of slavery and slave ownership on men differ from the affects on women? Do these injuries have any contemporary parallels?