1 May 2012
Oppression and Resistance Through Kindred’s Story
Kindred tells the story of a 1970s African American woman traveling through time to an 1815 slave plantation. The author, Octavia Butler, portrays how the main character, Dana, uses resistance to survive in both time periods. She uses Dana to address the social and cultural issues of the Antebellum South and post-Civil Rights Movement. As African American woman, Butler was subjected to racism and oppression in her life, and translated her experiences into Dana’s character. The setting switches back and forth between both times as Dana narrates, painting a picture of slavery through her eyes better than any factual essay or lecture about the topic can. The novel uses the conventions of science fiction to shape Kindred, telling a story of slavery and oppression. Although forms of resistance changed between the two periods, resistance remained a powerful force that overcame boundaries, even that of time. Slavery’s effects did not end with emancipation; oppression translated into Jim Crow laws, beatings, lynchings and racism. People will always deal with oppression and resistance in life, and Kindred is an effective example of overcoming oppression as a historically and culturally contextualized act. One reason Kindred addressed social and cultural issues effectively comes from the background of its author, Octavia Butler. According to Elisabeth Anne Leonard, the oppressed group views oppression differently than the majority, “It is easier to be hopeful about an end to oppression if one is not part of the oppressed group.” As an African American, society subjected Butler to the effects racism can have, and allowed her to effectively portray Dana as oppressed in both time periods. Butler grew up in the fifties and sixties where it was difficult for African Americans to become successful science fiction writers (Leonard 1). Resistance filled her life as society held oppressing views on African Americans as authors. She heard many negative comments about her dreams of writing, “Honey, Negroes can’t be writers” (JBHE Foundation). The resistance required of her to write, along with her abilities as a writer, translates into Kindred. Dana can be viewed as a reflection of Butler’s own resistance in life. Dana’s fight of racism and slavery to save her family and her relationship with her husband is a parallel to Butler’s fights becoming an African American science fiction author (“Race and Ethnicity in Science Fiction” 7).
Another reason that the novel portrays an effective way to deal with oppression is because of its time traveling plot. Dana travels back and forth from the slave plantation to 1976 many times in the novel. American history tells about the time of slavery, but the novel allows its readers to connect with slavery through first hand encounters of a modern woman. Dana’s experiences do more than tell a story; they change how the audience views slavery. Dana describes oppression and pain as only a person subjected to slavery could. “Hanging by the neck. A woman. Alice. I stared at her not believing, not wanting to believe, I touched her and her flesh was cold and hard. The dead gray face was ugly in death as it had never been in life. The mouth was open. The eyes were open and staring” (Butler 248). Alice committed suicide because Rufus claimed to have sold her children away as slaves. Rufus broke Alice’s heart and drove her to suicide. (Butler 249-251). The picture painted of Alice is breathtaking and conveys an image of the psychological issues slavery caused. Children, relatives and friends could be taken away from a slave at the owner’s discretion. When people hear about this in history books, they realize losing family members had to hurt psychologically, but Butler gives the reader the ability to feel the slave’s emotions and pain with her descriptions through Dana. Butler used science fiction to tell the story of...
Cited: Butler, Octavia E. Kindred. Boston: Beacon Press, 1979. Print.
JBHE Foundation. “Octavia Butler, 1947-2006.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No. 51. Page 13. Spring 2006. Web. 21 April 2012.
Leonard, Elisabeth Anne. “Race and ethnicity in science fiction.” The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. Cambridge University Press 1996. Print.
Litwack, Leon F. “ ‘Fight the Power!’ The legacy of the civil rights movement.” Journal of Southern History. 75.1 (Feb. 2009): p. 3. Web. 21 April 2012.
Mendlesohn, Farah. “Introduction: reading science fiction.” The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. Cambridge University Press. Print.
Schiff, Sarah Eden. “Recovering (from) the Double: Fiction as Historical Revision in Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred.” Arizona Quarterly 65.1. Spring 2009. Print.
Weinberg, Carl R. “Antebellum Slavery.” OAH Magazine of History. April 2009. Web. 21 April 2012.
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