Kindred

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Themes and Colors
Family and Home Theme Icon
Interracial Relationships Theme Icon
History and Trauma Theme Icon
Freedom and Privilege Theme Icon
Choice and Power Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Kindred, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Family and Home Theme Icon

Starting with the book’s very title, family and kinship are some of the most important considerations to the characters and plot of Kindred. The family bond between Rufus and Dana is the driving force of the story, as Dana travels back in time to save Rufus each time he is trouble, because she has to keep Rufus alive so that he can bear the child that will continue Dana’s family line. Yet family is not a simple concept in the novel, as Rufus and Dana also have to navigate what it means to be family when Dana is black and Rufus is white. Butler highlights the fact that American families are very rarely purely one race or another, and that the very idea of racial purity is a fiction meant to perpetuate the damaging racial hierarchy of white and black in America.

Dana must then decide whether her familial responsibility belongs with the enslaved African Americans on the Weylin plantation or with Rufus Weylin himself. Dana admires the strength of the bonds between the black families on the plantation, and laments that these families are not given legal or societal protection within the institution of slavery. In contrast, Rufus and his parents seem unable to form meaningful and healthy relationships with one another and rarely help each other in times of trouble. Dana then attempts to help Rufus bond with his own children, born from the enslaved Alice, in an effort to help Rufus see that families have to support each other in order to survive. Butler points out that families have a responsibility to help one another, even if it is only to ensure their own survival. The slave families are forced to put these bonds to the test, forming connections—in order to endure the harsh treatment from their masters—that are far stronger than the blood bonds between other characters. Dana chooses to remain loyal to Alice and the slaves who suffered with her rather than simply looking at the biological connections that tie her to Rufus.

Butler further explores the ways that families can be formed by choice, giving Dana and her husband Kevin a new definition of home. Dana and Kevin act as each other’s family when their respective biological families are unable to support their career ambitions or their interracial relationship. When they are separated by time travel, both Dana and Kevin are unable to feel at home when the other person is not there. The notion of home becomes more than a place, but rather the location where a person can be with the people that they love. Even as Dana desperately wants to get “home” to the present and to Kevin and escape the pain of life in the past, the Weylin plantation begins to feel like home precisely because Dana feels as though she belongs with the people there and has a responsibility to help care for them through the “stronger, sharper reality” of this intense time. Dana has both biological ancestral family and chosen family on the Weylin plantation, and therefore feels caught between her home in the past and her home in the present each time she travels.

When the time travel finally ends, Dana and Kevin bring these two notions of home together by going to Maryland and researching the fates of Dana’s biological ancestors. Butler asserts that home is made up of places where people have strong personal connections, even if those connections are as fraught with pain as Dana’s racially complicated family history.

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Family and Home ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Family and Home appears in each Chapter of Kindred. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Family and Home Quotes in Kindred

Below you will find the important quotes in Kindred related to the theme of Family and Home.
Chapter 2: The Fire Quotes

Alice Greenwood. How would she marry this boy? Or would it be marriage? And why hadn't someone in my family mentioned that Rufus Weylin was white? If they knew. Probably, they didn't. Hagar Weylin Blake had died in 1880, long before the time of any member of my family that I had known. No doubt most information about her life had died with her.

Related Characters: Dana (Edana) Franklin (speaker), Rufus Weylin, Alice Jackson (Greenwood), Hagar Weylin
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Dana slowly puts together that she is traveling into the past to save Rufus, a white boy in the Antebellum South who will someday begin Dana’s own family line, along with a black woman named Alice Greenwood. Recognizing that it would have been impossible at that time for Rufus and Alice to have had a legal marriage, Dana wonders how this interracial relationship actually played out. These mysteries are a part of many American families, as Butler points out how often family history becomes tangled even when modern Americans would rather believe that the story was simple. Dana, a black woman, has always believed that all of her ancestors were also black. Yet Kindred points out how frequently masters took advantage of their female slaves and increased the number of mixed-race children who were treated as black in society. Through Dana’s travels to the past, she gets to witness firsthand details about her family tree that most modern Americans never find out.

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Chapter 3: The Fall Quotes

He had written and published three novels, he told me, and outside members of his family, he'd never met anyone who'd read one of them. They'd brought so little money that he'd gone on taking mindless jobs like this one at the warehouse, and he'd gone on writing—unreasonably, against the advice of saner people. He was like me—a kindred spirit crazy enough to keep on trying.

Related Characters: Dana (Edana) Franklin (speaker), Kevin Franklin
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Kevin and Dana meet while working day jobs at a warehouse they hate in order to fund their dreams of being authors. They build a relationship from this basis of shared desires and sense of “kindred spirits” (a phrase recalling the novel’s title and the theme of family and home), giving them a solid foundation from which to deal with the difficulties of having an interracial relationship. Dana and Kevin do not ignore the differences in their familial and cultural backgrounds, but they prioritize the ways that their personalities and values are similar. Each prize their freedom and independence as writers above having a “normal” job according to the opinions of family or society. Race is certainly a consideration in their marriage, as Butler does not present or advocate for a “colorblind” definition of interracial love that erases the heavy history of racial interactions in America, but Kevin and Dana put other things above this potential divide in the hopes of working toward a future in which racial harmony is possible. In a perfect world, Dana and Kevin would be met with support and encouragement for following their hearts rather than their skin color.

The expression in her eyes had gone from sadness—she seemed almost ready to cry—to anger. Quiet, almost frightening anger. Her husband dead, three children sold, the fourth defective, and her having to thank God for the defect. She had reason for more than anger. How amazing that Weylin had sold her children and still kept her to cook his meals. How amazing that he was still alive.

Related Characters: Dana (Edana) Franklin (speaker), Sarah, Tom Weylin, Carrie
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Dana finds out that Sarah, the Weylins’ cook, has experienced huge losses at the hands of her white masters. In general, one of the worst emotional tolls that resulted from the institution of slavery was the destruction of black families. Sarah’s children are sold with no regard for how it will hurt her to be separated from them. Furthermore, Sarah’s last remaining child, Carrie, is kept primarily to ensure that Sarah will never run away to find her other children or do something to take revenge against her masters. Though Sarah feels this pain deeply, she cannot act on these emotions for fear that her masters will retaliate against Carrie. Sarah’s love for her children is used against her, keeping Sarah obedient despite the awful things that the Weylin family has done to her. As much as Sarah might wish to put something in the food or botch the cooking in a way that makes the Weylins ill (or even kills them), she has to serve them well to protect Carrie’s well-being. Instead of questioning Sarah’s decision not to “fight back” by poisoning the Weylins, Butler comments on Sarah’s strength for restraining herself from doing something rash that would ultimately cause Sarah even more pain by putting Carrie in danger.

Chapter 4: The Fight Quotes

“She doesn't care much for white people, but she prefers light-skinned blacks. Figure that out. Anyway, she ‘forgives’ me for you. But my uncle doesn't. He's sort of taken this personally.”
“Personally, how?”
“He ... well, he's my mother's oldest brother, and he was like a father to me even before my mother died because my father died when I was a baby. Now ... it's as though I've rejected him. Or at least that's the way he feels. It bothered me, really. He was more hurt than mad.”

Related Characters: Dana (Edana) Franklin (speaker), Kevin Franklin (speaker)
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

When Dana and Kevin decided to get married, they faced opposition from each of their families. In 1976, interracial couples were still somewhat of a novelty and both Kevin and Dana’s relatives do not fully understand why each do not want someone “of their own kind.” Dana’s aunt and uncle also deal with the additional layer of internalized racism that prizes light black skin above darker black skin, as it is closer to the white “ideal.” As American society in general tells black people that black skin is undesirable and white skin is beautiful, Dana’s uncle is then somewhat understandably bothered by Dana’s choice to reject the beauty of her own people in favor of a white man. While some white people argued against interracial marriages for fear of “diluting” their valuable white blood, a major argument made by people of color against interracial couples is that people of color should not perpetuate the idea that white people are inherently the most attractive and desirable partners. The damaging prejudices of American society keep Dana and Kevin’s family from being supportive of their relationship, though Dana and Kevin are very well-matched in personality. Their relationship of mutual respect and affection actually works in its own small way to bridge the divide between their races and dismantle the idea that only white people are worthy of love and marriage.

"Daddy's the only man I know," he said softly, "who cares as much about giving his word to a black as to a white."
"Does that bother you?"
"No! It's one of the few things about him I can respect."
"It's one of the few things about him you should copy."

Related Characters: Dana (Edana) Franklin (speaker), Rufus Weylin (speaker), Tom Weylin
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

Once Dana is in the past again, she tries to send letters to her husband Kevin so that the couple can be reunited. Rufus promises to send them to Kevin, but then jealously refuses to send those letters in order to keep Dana to himself. When Tom finds out, he “does his duty” and sends the letters because he has a moral code to uphold a promise—no matter how little he respects Dana and all black people. As a slaveholder who has no problem owning another human being and actively works to enforce his will and keep his slaves in submission, Tom is certainly not a good person or role model in the novel. Yet Butler avoids making Tom an outright villain with no good qualities, recognizing that all people, both white and black, are complex and three-dimensional. Tom might not be an admirable person who champions the rights of black people despite the societal pressure to treat them as property, but he at least recognizes that black slaves are humans who deserve basic consideration within his moral code. Dana then takes this (very minimal) good example from Tom and uses it to attempt to shape Rufus into a better person who respects black people on their own terms. Butler likewise uses this nuance in Tom’s character to show that the conditions of slavery were not entirely good and evil, black and white. Slaveholders could be honest or loyal, just as Tom maintains his own moral code even though those morals also allow slavery to continue.

Chapter 5: The Storm Quotes

"Christ," he muttered. "If I'm not home yet, maybe I don't have a home."… I could recall walking along the narrow dirt road that ran past the Weylin house and seeing the house, shadowy in twilight, boxy and familiar… I could recall feeling relief at seeing the house, feeling that I had come home. And having to stop and correct myself, remind myself that I was in an alien, dangerous place. I could recall being surprised that I would come to think of such a place as home.

Related Characters: Dana (Edana) Franklin (speaker), Kevin Franklin (speaker)
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

When Dana and Kevin return from the past for the third time (for Dana), they are surprised to find that they feel like the Weylin estate has become a kind of home for them. Kevin especially struggles with feeling out of place in the present after spending five years in the past without Dana. Though living in the past is far more difficult for each of them, due to both the day-to-day rigor of making a living in this time period and the harmful social atmosphere of slavery and inequality, there is also a sense of belonging at the Weylin estate that Dana and Kevin do not feel anywhere else. Throughout the novel, Butler ties the concept of home to people rather than places. Dana and Kevin are wanted and needed by the Weylin family and their slaves in a way that they don’t feel connected to their families in the present. Life in the Weylins’ time is not easy, but it is all the more rewarding for Dana and Kevin because they feel like they belong there.

Dana especially feels an obligation to the past that pulls her back there in order to help her family. Her biological ties to Rufus are one part of this, but Dana feels even more indebted to the other slaves who welcomed her onto the estate and became Dana’s chosen family. After Dana and Kevin lose touch with each other, they each return to the Weylin estate as the last place that they felt truly connected to the people and community. The couple then has to re-establish their marriage in order to come back to the present as their “home” with one another.

I felt as though I were losing my place here in my own time. Rufus's time was a sharper, stronger reality. The work was harder, the smells and tastes were stronger, the danger was greater, the pain was worse ... Rufus's time demanded things of me that had never been demanded before, and it could easily kill me if I did not meet its demands. That was a stark, powerful reality that the gentle conveniences and luxuries of this house, of now, could not touch.

Related Characters: Dana (Edana) Franklin (speaker), Rufus Weylin
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

As Dana comes back from her third trip to Rufus’s time, she struggles to find her place between the present where she grew up and the past where she has learned so much about herself. Life is certainly not “better” for Dana in the past, as she is forced to live as a slave, give up her freedom and agency, and be treated as less than human. Yet Dana also feels fiercely connected to the people in Rufus’s time, Rufus and Alice as her blood ancestors, and the other slaves on the Weylin estate as her chosen family. Dana is brought together with these people through their shared suffering and so feels an obligation to return to the past and help the Weylin slaves in whatever way she can. Dana then feels almost guilty for the “gentle conveniences and luxuries” that she enjoys in the present. Furthermore, the very state of existence and reality in the past feels rawer and more “real” than this comfortable and detached present. The life and death stakes of life in the past push Dana to be a better and more alive version of herself, shed of any privileges that growing up in the present affords her in contrast to her enslaved family.

Carrie clasped her hands around her neck again. Then she drew closer to me and clasped them around my neck. Finally, she went over to the crib that her youngest child had recently outgrown and there, symbolically, clasped her hands again, leaving enough of an open circle for a small neck…. Margaret Weylin could not run the plantation. Both the land and the people would be sold. And if Tom Weylin was any example, the people would be sold without regard for family ties.

Related Characters: Dana (Edana) Franklin (speaker), Rufus Weylin, Tom Weylin, Margaret Weylin, Carrie
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:

When Dana witnesses her first slave sale, she is incredibly disturbed that Rufus would continue this inhumane practice, and thinks of letting Rufus die the next time he is in trouble as punishment for this behavior. Through sign language, Carrie shows Dana that life would be worse for the Weylin slaves if Rufus were to die, as they would all be sold away from their families if Margaret Weylin gained control of the Weylin plantation. Carrie who is mute, is one of the smartest characters of the novel, though she has no voice to express herself. Carrie’s inability to communicate vocally metaphorically suggests the lack of agency that the slaves have over their lives. Despite how strongly the slaves regard their familial bonds, there are no guarantees that either their biological families or the families they have formed together on the plantation would be allowed to stay together if any of the Weylin masters decided it was time to sell.

Margaret Weylin, Rufus’s mother, has no concept of what it means to keep a family together, as she has no close relationship to her own son and husband, and would certainly not care about separating the much closer ties between the slaves. Carrie understands that her infant son could be sold away from her at any moment, and that there is nothing that she can do about it – not even scream to express her pain and rage. Dana’s obligation to protect thus Rufus grows two-fold, both to ensure that Rufus lives long enough to continue Dana’s family line and to try to keep the Weylin slaves together as long as possible before the Civil War brings emancipation.

“I know what he means. He likes me in bed, and you out of bed, and you and I look alike if you can believe what people say.”
“We look alike if we can believe our own eyes!”
“I guess so. Anyway, all that means we're two halves of the same woman—at least in his crazy head.”

Related Characters: Dana (Edana) Franklin (speaker), Alice Jackson (Greenwood) (speaker), Rufus Weylin
Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:

As Alice and Dana spend more time together, Rufus starts to regard the two women as two halves of a “wife,” though he is not legally married to either of them. He desires Alice physically and craves Dana’s company and help with running the Weylin estate. Rufus’s love for each woman is a complicated mix of ownership and obsession, as Rufus asserts himself as their master but also wants the women to adore him and be happy in his presence. Rufus is not content to rule through fear, hoping that Alice will forgive him for raping her and that Dana will allow him to curb her freedom voluntarily. Butler draws many parallels between the two women, both in their looks and in their situation as objects of Rufus’s affection. Yet Alice, Dana’s many times great-grandmother, is much less accepting of Rufus’s “crazy” longing for a black woman. Dana, having seen that white men can truly love black women through her relationship with her husband Kevin, prefers to think that Rufus’s harmful definition of love can be shaped from possessiveness to mutual respect. Through both Alice and Dana, Butler shows the power dynamics at play in the master-slave dichotomy. Alice is completely subjugated by Rufus while Dana has control over Rufus’s life, should she ever choose not to save him.

Her names were only symbolic, but I had more than symbols to remind me that freedom was possible—probable—and for me, very near.
Or was it?
Slowly, I began to calm down. The danger to my family was past, yes. Hagar had been born. But the danger to me personally ... the danger to me personally still walked and talked and sometimes sat with Alice in her cabin in the evening as she nursed Hagar.

Related Characters: Dana (Edana) Franklin (speaker), Rufus Weylin, Alice Jackson (Greenwood), Hagar Weylin, Joseph (Joe) Weylin
Page Number: 234
Explanation and Analysis:

Alice finally gives birth to Hagar, her fourth child with her master Rufus and Dana’s many great-grandmother. Hagar’s existence means that Dana can stop worrying about protecting Rufus for the sake of her family line, and is somewhat free from her obligation as Rufus’s guardian. Yet though Dana may not ever have to come back to the past, she still has to deal with Rufus until she travels back to her life in the future. Rufus is a danger to Dana personally, with the power to hurt Dana as long as she lives on the Weylin estate.

Alice also sees Hagar as a symbol of her potential freedom, naming her after a slave from the Bible who later gains freedom. Hagar was a mistress of Abraham, the father of the Jewish faith, much like Alice is forced to be Rufus’s mistress. Hagar was cast out into the desert by Abraham’s wife, Sarah, but God saved Hagar and her son. Alice’s other surviving child, Joseph, is also named for a Biblical figure who endured slavery before he worked his way to becoming the advisor to the Pharaoh in Egypt. Alice thus christens her child with her own longing to be free, and her hope that she and her children will eventually escape Rufus’s influence.

Sarah had cornered me once and said, "What you let her talk to you like that for? She can't get away with it with nobody else."
I didn't know. Guilt, maybe. In spite of everything, my life was easier than hers. Maybe I tried to make up for that by taking her abuse…
"If you go on talking to me the way you do, I won't care what he does to you."
She looked at me for a long time without saying anything. Finally, she smiled. "You'll care. And you'll help me. Else, you'd have to see yourself for the white nigger you are, and you couldn't stand that."

Related Characters: Dana (Edana) Franklin (speaker), Alice Jackson (Greenwood) (speaker), Sarah (speaker), Rufus Weylin
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:

Dana and Alice have a complicated relationship, like sisters who fight even as they try to help one another. Dana especially feels an obligation to make life better for Alice because Dana feels partly responsible for the main source of pain in Alice’s life. Dana needs Alice to stay with Rufus in order for Dana’s family line to exist, even though Alice hates her conditions as a slave and hates being Rufus’s mistress even more. Additionally, Dana has the hope of going back to the future where she can live free with control over her own life, something that Alice has very little chance of ever achieving again if she wants to stay with her children.

Alice misreads Dana’s guilt as loyalty to Rufus, and many on the Weylin plantation see the complicated bond between Rufus and Dana as Dana having affection for Rufus. Dana cannot help but feel some affinity for Rufus, as he is her blood relative, but she is actually far more faithful to her chosen family among the slaves on the Weylin manor. For this reason, Dana continually puts up with Alice’s insults and tries to help Alice make the best out of her difficult circumstances.

Chapter 6: The Rope Quotes

"I'm not property, Kevin. I'm not a horse or a sack of wheat. If I have to seem to be property, if I have to accept limits on my freedom for Rufus's sake, then he also has to accept limits - on his behavior toward me. He has to leave me enough control of my own life to make living look better to me than killing and dying."
"If your black ancestors had felt that way, you wouldn't be here," said Kevin.
"I told you when all this started that I didn't have their endurance. I still don't. Some of them will go on struggling to survive, no matter what. I'm not like that."

Related Characters: Dana (Edana) Franklin (speaker), Kevin Franklin (speaker), Rufus Weylin
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:

The fourth time that Dana returns from the past, she cuts her own wrists and risks dying in order to escape Rufus and get back to the present. Rufus finally overstepped the careful boundary that Dana had drawn, selling a field hand that expressed interest in Dana out of spite and slapping Dana across the face when she dared to protest. These acts symbolically stripped Dana of the ability to choose what she wanted for her own life, making her feel as though she couldn’t even talk to anyone out of fear of what Rufus would do to them in his jealousy. This lack of agency drove Dana to take the chance that she might die over living the powerless life of a slave. Dana takes back her power by making such an extreme choice.

Kevin points out how dangerous Dana’s injury was, suggesting that it would be smarter to put up with things in order to survive. He argues that Dana’s ancestors did that – explaining that they could not have just chosen suicide over slavery without cutting off Dana’s family line and the lives of all those in modern times descended from enslaved peoples. Through Dana’s response, then, Butler both praises the strength of those who were able to endure slavery and give birth to a new generation while also emphasizing how extraordinary that choice was. Though militant activists in the 1960s might argue that all slaves should have revolted and taken their freedom no matter the violence or cost, Butler argues that sometimes the braver choice is to live through the day-to-day horror of being a slave and give one’s children a chance of living.

Epilogue Quotes

"I wonder whether the children were allowed to stay together—maybe stay with Sarah."
"You've looked," he said. "And you've found no records. You'll probably never know."
I touched the scar Tom Weylin's boot had left on my face, touched my empty left sleeve. "I know," I repeated. "Why did I even want to come here. You'd think I would have had enough of the past."
"You probably needed to come for the same reason I did." He shrugged. "To try to understand. To touch solid evidence that those people existed.”

Related Characters: Dana (Edana) Franklin (speaker), Kevin Franklin (speaker), Tom Weylin
Related Symbols: Dana’s Lost Left Arm
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:

When Dana returns to the present for good, she travels to Maryland from her home in California in order to find out as much as she can about the family members she met while living in the past. Kevin rationalizes this desire to return to a place that has caused Dana so much pain as a desire to know that all of the traumatic events in the past actually happened, and led Dana’s family to the place it is today. While Dana may never know exactly what happened to her ancestor Hagar, she at least knows that Hagar eventually gained her freedom after the Civil War and was able to continue Dana’s family line so that Dana herself could be born and see the emergence of the Civil Rights Era. In some senses, Kindred itself expresses that same goal of witnessing both the suffering and the strength of those who lived through slavery and were able to survive long enough to give the next generation a chance of finding a better future. Butler memorializes that awful time for the ancestors of so many black Americans, and Kindred recognizes the ways that those traumas still linger in the lives of those descended from enslaved peoples, who can never forget the sacrifices that their ancestors made.