The time is the early 1800s, some five decades before the American Civil War and the south was still gripped by slavery. The Weylin plantation in the confederate state of Maryland is a microcosm of the African-American experience-men and women of color were deprived of liberties and treated by whites as properties that can be bred and sold, endured sexual violations and hard labor in the cotton fields, and subjected to physical and mental punishments that would be seen as insanely inhuman in today’s societies.
Rufus, the sole heir of the Weylin plantation, had fathered a child to the slave, Alice, and fast forward to San Francisco of the 1970s, her descendant Dana Franklin is living a life equipped with rights and choices that eluded her ancestors. One fine day, while Dana and her husband were getting settled in their new home, she zooms back in time to the antebellum South. Dana shuttles back to the past each time there is an endangerment to Rufus’ life and she careens back to the present when it is her own life that is threatened. There is no sufficient explanation to the phenomenon only that Dana has to secure Rufus’ survival if only to preserve her bloodline.
Published in 1979 to critical acclaim, Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred is an excellent illustration of the function of science fiction in literature-to lay bare the core values and motivations of man in the realm of the supernatural and in the midst of alternative history. In Kindred, Butler reexamines a dark era in world history and by narrating the African-American experience from the perspective of a time traveler, Butler affirms how societies have progressed in uplifting human conditions. The sharp contrasts between Dana’s present life as a free black woman versus her position as slave and mere property in the antebellum South should allow the reader to acknowledge that we now inhabit a much kinder world.
Numerous novels and films have explored slavery in America. But Kindred may assume a unique distinction in the cannon essentially for its creative approach of portraying the grim African-American experience as sci-fi or fantasy genre. Butler harps on the basic humanity of her characters inasmuch as they exist as properties-they yearn to conquer their ignorance through education, they aspire to build their own families, they dream and work on their freedom. More than three decades since its publication, Kindred is never dated. It rises above its more contemporary peers as it continues to underscore subjects that remain relevant and evolving to this day including feminism and sexuality, human relations across races and economic status, and the psychological tolls of social oppression.
Read Kindred then be transported and enlightened.