59 pages 1 hour read

Octavia E. Butler


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1979

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Summary and Study Guide


The 1979 novel Kindred was written by Octavia E. Butler, a Black author from California who wrote science fiction that challenged white hegemony. The novel tells the story of Edana “Dana” Franklin, a young Black woman in 1976 whose connection to a young white boy named Rufus Weylin allows her to time travel to 1800s Maryland. As she jumps between 1976 and the 1800s, she learns how she and Rufus are connected, and she must survive as an enslaved person in the antebellum South to fit in.

The novel has been praised for its raw and compelling depiction of slavery, bringing it to the forefront to remind us to never forget the sins of our past. Butler’s use of time travel highlights the importance of keeping the past present because the trauma left behind continues to shape our daily lives.

Content Warning: The source material includes scenes depicting suicide, sexual assault including rape, sexual coercion, and other instances of graphic violence.

Plot Summary

The story begins in 1976 when Black protagonist Dana turns 26 and moves into a new Los Angeles home with her white husband, Kevin Franklin. While unpacking, she suddenly feels disoriented and finds herself outside watching a young white boy drown. She saves him and learns his name is Rufus moments before his father points a gun at her, sending her back to the present. Later that day, Dana time travels again to extinguish a fire Rufus has just started and learns she is in antebellum Maryland. Rufus is her ancestor, and he subconsciously calls her whenever he is in danger, sending her traveling through time to save him. Dana also learns that she travels back home when she believes her life is in danger.

When Rufus falls out of a tree, Dana arrives, this time with Kevin as her companion. Together, they must fit into the roles of the period: Dana must pretend to be an enslaved person, and Kevin must pretend to be her owner. They meet other enslaved people such as Sarah, the plantation cook; Nigel, Rufus’s enslaved friend; Luke, Nigel’s father and the Black overseer of enslaved people; Carrie, Sarah’s daughter who has a speech disorder; and Alice, Rufus’s friend, eventual lover, and Dana’s ancestor as well. They also meet Rufus’s parents, Tom and Margaret Weylin, the cruel plantation owners. Dana wants to make sure young Rufus does not end up as evil as his parents.

When Dana gets caught teaching Nigel and Carrie to read, Tom Weylin whips her savagely, which triggers Dana’s travel back to 1976 alone. Kevin does not make it in time to hold on to her as she travels, so he is left stranded in Maryland. Dana is only gone for eight days when she is called back to save Rufus. Five years have passed for him, and he has been beaten by Alice’s new husband for raping Alice. Dana must again play the role of the enslaved person while helping Rufus, befriending Alice, and searching for Kevin. Eventually, Kevin returns for her and they plan to leave North, but Rufus stops them. He aims a gun at Dana, sending her and Kevin back to 1976 together.

That same day, Rufus calls Dana again; for him, six more years have passed. Dana must care for him as he suffers from dengue fever. Eventually, Alice gives birth to Hagar, Dana’s great grandmother, and Dana is satisfied knowing that she has ensured her own birth. However, Rufus has become controlling, sadistic, and vengeful like his father. Alice and the other enslaved people despise him, and Dana has mixed feelings about him. She tries to make him a kinder slaveowner, but when Rufus catches another enslaved person, Sam James, flirting with Dana, he becomes jealous and sells Sam. This pushes Dana to slit her wrists to be sent home to the present.

Two weeks later, Rufus calls Dana one last time. Alice has killed herself after Rufus made her believe he had sold their children. Rufus asks Dana to stay with him, and when she refuses, he tries to rape her. She stabs and kills him, sending herself back to the present. However, Rufus’s dead hand was still clutching her arm, so when she arrives in the present, her arm is conjoined with the wall of her home and her arm must be amputated.

When she recovers, she and Kevin go to Maryland to search for records of the Weylin plantation. They find that Nigel burned the house down to cover up the murder, and the enslaved people were subsequently resold. Alice’s children presumably went to live with Margaret Weylin’s family in Baltimore. Dana and Kevin are left with their harrowing memories of the past and are forced to move on together now that they are free of Rufus.