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Kindred: A Response

Well, I just finished the whole of Kindred and, I’m sad to say, it only spiraled downward for me. I suppose I just came into the book with a set of expectations I shouldn’t have. After all, it’s not poorly written and it does discuss some very interesting elements of the antebellum time period which aren’t often brought to the table (elements such as humanized slaveholders, more poignant descriptions of the atrocities wrought on enslaved mothers, bringing into question our own modern slang and what terms such as “slave” actually mean, issues of white children being raised into hatred and the difficulties arising from trying to break such a cycle, etc.) — however, I found myself struck by Butler’s lack of “so, what?” She never truly connected the issues Dana faced with Dana’s modern life — after all, wouldn’t a black woman in the seventies married to an older white man have the notions of an activist (both racially and feminist) in her mind while she deals with certain issues in the antebellum South? And yet I rarely if ever found her considering these different perspectives during her many, many, many moments of reflection

I also found myself unable to connect with Dana’s reactions or feelings on almost any of her decisions in dealing with Rufus — why did his words continuously touch her and win her sympathies? If I was the one responsible for convincing a young woman to go up and submit herself to night after night of awful and often violent rape, I don’t think I would be able to stomach myself let alone the monster doing the actual raping. I also didn’t understand why the ending was the way it was — what was the point of her arm being severed? What in the wide world of sports was Butler trying to accomplish through Dana’s seemingly random discussion with herself about whether or not it would be so bad to simply be raped and enslaved by Rufus? That conversation seemed apropos of absolutely nothing and then was not reflected upon at all. Why on earth would a black woman raised during times of active racial discrimination ever, ever find it in her to consider that type of lifestyle or the fate of a rape victim? This turn in her character seemed, to me, both wrong and unbelievable.

I did, however, find Kevin’s reaction to the antebellum South interesting. At first I was rather offended when Butler began tentatively discussing the idea of Kevin becoming somewhat acclimated into the lifestyle and social order of the South upon first arriving there with Dana. It offended me because it seemed somewhat racist on her part to suggest that, given the opportunity, “all” white people would find such a lifestyle appealing. However, upon giving this greater thought and some discussion, I realized that it probably wasn’t a racial comment at all, but a human one. After all, look at the studies done in Stanford on the power dynamic between prisoners and prison guards. Even when healthy people are chosen at random, informed of the study being done, and then are given the artificial titles and powers — they almost always come out in the same abusive situation, with the people in power finding themselves abusing the people “beneath” them under the justification that those “below” them somehow have brought the punishments upon themselves. It is as if such a power structure automatically breeds a nasty combination of faux-paternalism and animalistic senseless hatred. And from this realization, I found myself suddenly really appreciating this passage — as well as better appreciating the other power structures which Butler did a lovely job of bringing to the stage, such as those between enslaved men and their wives, between enslaved peoples working in the fields versus those in the domestic sphere, between the white children and the black children, between the educated and the uneducated. And this discussion, I felt, should’ve also been extended to the modern issues facing Dana and Kevin — why not discuss the inherent power structure they were fighting against as a couple?

All in all, I feel as though Butler kept producing these intriguing situations but just never moved far enough forward with them. I was hoping she’d bring more of the conversations and problems Dana faced forward into the issues and progresses made (and still needed to be made) in modern times. Without this step forward into the modern day, I had trouble (and am still having some trouble) figuring out what the heart of hearts point of this book was — what was she hoping to bring to light, accomplish, communicate through Kindred?

I feel as though, of all things, our class at least has a great grasp on what our So, What? is — that’s what a great deal of our opening conversations seemed to center on — why are we doing this? who are we doing this for? I just feel as though these are questions which Butler approached but, at least for me, failed to fully answer. Did anyone else feel this way or am I simply being crabby because of the early hour?

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. lhennigan
    March 20, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    I completely agree with you opinions,especially regarding Kevin. I kept getting frustrated at the fact that he was just so passive of what was happening to Dana and he seemed so ignorant in passages. But after I finished the book and began to think of it as a whole, I can’t say that it wasn’t an honest representation of what might happen if someone was put in that situation. The whole book was just a little too bizzarre science-fiction themed for me to really appreciate. Though I would agree that she brings concepts such as the white slave owner’s point of view to attention, I was just left wanting something else. I’m not sure what that was exactly, it just didn’t feel complete.

  2. March 21, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    I think you’re totally justified. I felt the same confusion when I finished the book. The arm thing was particularly frustrating, but that may just be because it made the least amount of sense to me. But I feel there were a lot of unanswered questions. The emphasis on Dana and Alice being halves of one another still escapes me. Maybe Alice was the fire that Dana lacked in Civil Rights movement? I also don’t fully understand her forgiving of Rufus, was even later horrified when I began to sympathize the character. Not his actions, but his longing for genuine love and trying so desperately to find it from Alice or Dana. Obviously he should’ve used different means.

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