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Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Octavia Estelle Butler was an American science fiction writer, one of very few African-American women in the field. In 1979, she published Kindred, a novel which uses the science fiction technique of time travel to explore slavery in the United States.


Butler takes on and redrafts the Slave narrative by portraying the true circumstances of slavery as a long dark period during which the blacks were denied individuality and even humanity.

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The novel relates the story of Dana, an African American woman living in 1976 who is repeatedly thrown back in time to the ante-bellum south. She is summoned by her ancestor, Rufus, from the time he is a child through to adulthood. Rufus is white and from a slave owning family. Dana is placed in the difficult position of making certain that Rufus and Alice have a child, Hagar, who is Dana’s direct ancestor Each time she travels back in time, she stays longer, and comes back only when her life is in danger. She stops getting sent back in time after she kills Rufus.

Jobs assigned to the slaves in the house and in the fields

Enslaved people had to clear new land, dig ditches, cut and haul wood, slaughter livestock, and make repairs to buildings and tools. In many instances, they worked as mechanics, blacksmiths, drivers, carpenters, and in other skilled trades. Black women carried the additional burden of caring for their families by cooking and taking care of the children, as well as spinning, weaving, and sewing.

The family structure of the slaves and the social relationships among the slaves

Slaves married, had children, and worked hard to keep their families together. Black men, women, and children developed an underground culture through which they affirmed their humanity. House servants would come down from the “big house” and give news of the master and mistress, or keep people laughing with their imitations of the whites.

the relationship between slaves and their masters

Because they lived and worked in such close proximity, house servants and their owners tended to form more complex relationships. Black and white children were especially in a position to form bonds with each other. Black children might also become attached to white caretakers, such as the mistress, and white children to their black nannies. Because they were so young, they would have no understanding of the system they were born into, as Dana reveals, “Without knowing it, they prepared me to survive” (pg94 Kindred) African American women had to endure the threat and the practice of sexual exploitation.

There were no safeguards to protect them from being sexually stalked, harassed, or raped, or to be used as long-term concubines by masters and overseers. Soon after her last child is born, Alice runs away again because she fears that she will “turn into just what people call her” (pg 235 Kindred). She fears that she will lose her sense of self and accept her position as sexual chattel”.


Since the beginning of anti-African American reaction through our existing contemporary society, slavery carries on to be a contentious and inconsistent issue.  Slavery affects each individual living within the United States borders and throughout our world. No subject in the American past has provoked greater discussion and inflamed more controversy than slavery. From the arrival of the first Africans at Jamestown in 1619, through the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, to contemporary historical debates, the presence and enslavement of Africans has been defended, attacked and analyzed.


Octavia E. Butler (1979) Kindred, Page 94 and 235. Retrieved on 1st November 2006

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