Kindred Chapter 2: The Fire Summary & Analysis from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes

Kindred

Kindred Chapter 2: The Fire Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
1. Dana tries to leave the unsettling experience behind her, showering off the river mud, but she is unable to forget the feeling of dizziness and dislocation. She worries that she will be transported from the shower and refuses to leave the house for a birthday dinner with Kevin. Kevin brings food back for her and they eat in the kitchen. As Dana eats at the kitchen table, the dizziness and nausea come again, until she finds herself in a small bedroom.
Though Dana has only transported once, Butler already introduces the recurring feeling of dislocation that will follow Dana as she continually moves between “homes” when the dizziness and nausea strike. These physical symptoms again strengthen the idea that her travels are real and not hallucinated.
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2. Dana sits on a bed and watches a small red-haired boy, who looks like an older version of Rufus, accidentally set fire to the drapes with a burning stick. Realizing the danger of a fire in a wooden house, Dana gathers up the curtains and throws them out the window. Only then does she see the fireplace in the room where she could have safely let the drapes burn, but luckily the curtains land on dirt outside and do not catch fire to anything else.
Dana again reacts well under pressure, but shows her unease with disaster by throwing the drapes outside instead of looking for a fireplace first. Butler emphasizes that Dana is a normal person, reacting the way that any one of her readers might if faced with these same bizarre situations. Unbeknownst to Dana, this older boy truly is Rufus – aged years though Dana herself has only been away for hours.
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Now that Dana has saved a child again, she prepares herself to be sent home, but the dizziness does not return. Dana snatches a still burning stick from the boy’s hand and tells him he should know better than to play with fire. The boy angrily responds in a Southern accent, telling Dana that she should be careful not to make the boy call his father. Remembering the long rife, Dana softens her tone, but reminds the boy that his daddy will be mad enough when he sees the burned drapes. The boy backs down, then asks Dana who she is and why she is here.
Dana does not yet understand how the traveling works, but she does confirm that she has traveled somewhere in the Southern United States. Rufus (the boy Dana has saved once more) starts to show his complicated relationship with his father. Rufus invokes his father as a threat, but is unwilling to actually go to him for help when Dana calls Rufus’s bluff.
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Unsurprised that the boy doesn’t know what is happening any more than she does, Dana asks the boy his name. She is shocked to hear him say “Rufus,” as this boy is a couple years older than the Rufus she saved from the river hours ago. She tentatively asks Rufus if he has ever seen her before, or if he remembers a time when he nearly drowned. Rufus is unsure, but thinks that he remembers seeing Dana at the river when he was five years old. His mother had told him that it was crazy, but Rufus remembers that while he was drowning he could see Dana, dressed in pants like a man, inside a room full of books. Rufus’s mother hit him, a rare occurrence, when he asked where the woman from the river went.
Rufus and Dana are equally unaware of how this “magic” works, but while Kevin supports Dana through her strange experiences, Rufus’s family seems to ignore and actively discourage any talk about what is happening. This is one of many examples of the lack of support between Rufus and his parents. Dana’s defining environment in the future is her library of books, marking her as an educated person – especially to Rufus, who seems unused to seeing both large quantities of books and women who are comfortable in those spaces.
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Dana steadies herself and asks Rufus where he thinks she went when she disappeared at the river. Rufus replies that she must have gone back to the room with the books. Dana confirms this, but adds that she has no idea how any of this is possible. Dana has an inkling that Rufus controls her travels somehow, but doesn’t want to reveal this potentially dangerous information to the hostile boy. Rufus comments that his mother thinks that the woman from the river was a ghost.
Dana knows little about her strange travels, but Rufus seems to have some kind of control over her. Rufus, however, doesn’t know that he seems to have the power in this situation, much like many white males in America are unconscious of their privilege unless forced to acknowledge it or become aware of it due to some outside force. Dana is smart enough to be wary of handing Rufus this knowledge.
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Dana reminds Rufus that she has come to help him twice now, and that he shouldn’t be afraid of her. Rubbing her shoulders where Rufus’ mother’s blows from the river are still sore, Dana grapples with the fact that hours have passed for her while it seems that years have passed for Rufus. Her travels, apparently centered around Rufus, seem to transport her through time as well as space. Rufus then breaks into Dana’s thoughts, commenting that his mother let Dana save him because it was like the story from Second Kings, though she usually would not let a “nigger” touch her child.
Dana’s travels take physical tolls on her body, as she is injured in the past and then has no time in the present to heal from her wounds. The past traumas on her body carry over into the present just as ancestral traumas can carry over into the emotional psyche of modern descendants of enslaved peoples. Rufus’s casual use of a racial slur is the first suggestion that his world is far behind Dana’s “modern” times.
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Dana is appalled to hear Rufus say the word “nigger” so casually, and tentatively asks Rufus whether his mother uses that word often. Rufus, confused by the question, says of course. Dana decides to let that go, and simply asks Rufus to do her the courtesy of calling her a black woman. Rufus resists, but agrees to pay her that respect when Dana reminds Rufus that she has saved his life.
Though it may be apparent from the cover or back jacket, Rufus’s use of a racial slur is actually the first explicit mention of Dana’s skin color. Butler first defines Dana through traits such as her intelligence and her resourcefulness rather than by her race. Indeed, Kindred as a whole portrays black characters that are never reduced to stereotypes of racial ideas, as Butler maintains that black people deserve the same basic dignity and respect as white people – including in fictional representation.
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Dana switches topics, asking Rufus if he saw her again like he saw her in the office while he was drowning. Rufus replies that he was too afraid that he would die in the fire to see anything. Dana comments that Rufus probably would have been able to get out in time, but that his parents might have died if they were asleep when the fire engulfed the entire house. Rufus tells Dana that he previously burned down the stable when his father sold a horse that Rufus wanted for himself. This time, Rufus set the fire to get revenge on his father for hitting him. Dana gasps at the long red welts on Rufus’s back.
Rufus shows an impulsive desire for revenge at all costs and a casual disregard for dangers to his own life. Part of this seems to stem from his troubled family dynamic, as Rufus is treated abusively by his father – at least by Dana’s modern standards. Rufus’s fear of death in both the river and the fire seemed to trigger Dana’s appearance.
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Rufus tells Dana that his father beat him for stealing a dollar, so Rufus decided to burn down the house and make his father lose all his money. But once Rufus set the fire, he got scared that his father would whip him again and actually kill him this time. As the story comes out, Dana determines that Rufus can call her whenever he is legitimately scared for his life, but that he seems unaware that he is doing it. She asks Rufus if his father uses the whip often, and Rufus responds that his daddy whips black people when they need it. He adds that his mother was very mad when his father whipped him, and she left with Rufus for a month in Baltimore.
Though the whip – one of the most symbolic objects of American plantation slavery – represents the height of inhumane punishment to Dana, Rufus sees it as an everyday part of life for black people. Rufus’s father uses the whip indiscriminately, even on his own son. As such, Rufus’s father appears to be a cruel man in general, beyond being specifically racially motivated. Rufus’s mother and father also seem to have an unfulfilling relationship.
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Dana asks Rufus if they are close to Baltimore now. Rufus tells her that they are just across the bay. Dana is hopeful, thinking that she has relatives in Maryland that she can ask for help, if she can get to them. Yet a slowly growing fear forces Dana to ask Rufus what the date is. Confused, Rufus tells Dana that it is 1815. Dana sits down on the bed, in shock at this fact, but realizing that it explains Rufus’s callous attitude towards black people and his father’s use of a whip.
Dana already wants to lean on her family for help, a stark contrast to Rufus and his father’s difficult relationship. Comparing Rufus’s attitude towards race relations to Dana’s modern sensibilities at least shows some progress— as using the language and punishments that Rufus seems comfortable with is no longer (generally) acceptable in modern society.
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Dana calms herself as Rufus explains that they’re on the Weylin plantation, which belongs to his father, Tom Weylin. Remembering a small detail from her family history, Dana clarifies the spelling of Weylin and asks if there is a slave girl named Alice that lives nearby. Rufus confirms this, but tells Dana that Alice and her mother are free blacks. Dana realizes that Rufus might be an ancestor of hers, remembering the names Rufus and Alice Weylin written in her great-great-grandmother’s Bible. According to that record, Grandmother Hagar was born in 1831 to Rufus Weylin and Alice Greenwood Weylin.
Rufus seems unsure about how to spell his own name, another sign that Dana is far more educated than most people in Rufus’s time. The only thing that Dana knew about Rufus and Alice were their names, meaning that she is surprised to find out that Rufus is white and that her ancestor Alice was a free black woman. Dana had previously assumed that both these ancestors were slaves on the Weylin plantation.
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Dana considers that Rufus may be a blood relative of hers, one of the many ancestors that she never thought she would know anything about. This bond helps explain why Dana is traveling back in time to save Rufus, as Dana herself would not exist if Rufus had died in the river or the fire. Yet much about the time travel is still mysterious, and Dana is not comforted by the little sense that this new information makes. Rufus interrupts her thoughts, commenting that Dana would look a little like Alice’s mother if Dana wore proper clothing instead of men’s pants.
The resemblance between Dana and Alice’s mother is another link in the family line. Researching family history is especially difficult for Dana, who had assumed that her family were slaves with little to no record kept of their lives. This chance to go back to the past in person is a rare glimpse into the lives of people who otherwise would have remained entirely unknown to Dana. This sense of uncertainty is mirrored in the lack of information about how the time travel itself works. Butler is not concerned with the mechanisms of moving back in time, but rather with the things that Dana can learn when she is in the past.
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Dana changes the subject by asking how many slaves the Weylin family owns. Rufus tells her that there are 38 slaves on the plantation, and adds that Dana doesn’t talk, dress, or act like a slave. Rufus suddenly becomes worried that he and Dana will get in trouble because Dana hasn’t been calling him “Master” the way the slaves are supposed to. Dana compromises by telling Rufus that she will call him “Mister Rufus” if anyone else is in earshot.
Dana’s modern upbringing has given her the education and self-respect that Rufus ordinarily considers to belong only to white people. Yet Rufus’s confusion about Dana seems to stem from what he has learned from society at this point rather than his own personal prejudices. Rufus seems to worry about his title “Master” only for fear of what other people will say, rather than a real desire to be addressed as a superior.
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Dana continues to hope that she will be sent home again, wondering why it is taking so much longer this time. Rufus angrily brings her attention back to him, demanding to know Dana’s name. Dana tells him her name is Edana, but that most people call her Dana. Rufus, spooked, tells her that he heard a man’s voice calling “Dana” right before Dana appeared and put out the fire. Dana explains that the voice must have been her husband.
Rufus is clearly used to being the center of attention in his household, especially among women, and so he has no problem disrespectfully demanding information from Dana. Dana takes back control of the situation by giving Rufus her name and the name that she prefers to be called.
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As Dana worries about what she will do if she is stuck in the past, Rufus suggests that she hide for the night and come back in the morning to see if Tom Weylin will hire her to work for the day. Dana hesitates at the thought of working for someone as mean as Rufus’ father, so Rufus suggests that she go stay with Alice and Alice’s mother – surprising Dana with a kind-hearted wish to see Dana again before she leaves. Rufus agrees to show Dana the path to Alice’s house.
Rufus again is not what Dana expected of a slaver-holder. He seems truly interested in Dana and wants her to be safe. Ironically, Dana will be seeking refuge with her family in Maryland, though it is a much earlier generation than she expected when she first found out she was in another state.
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Dana and Rufus creep out of the Weylin house and into the yard. Dana finds the remains of the curtains and stamps them out, then tells Rufus to burn what’s left of them in the fireplace. Rufus’ mother (Margaret) will replace the drapes without telling Rufus’ father and getting him in trouble. Dana then follows Rufus’s directions into the woods towards Alice’s house.
Rufus and his mother seem united against Rufus’ father. Rufus seems to depend on other people to clean up his mistakes, as both Dana and Margaret have to step in to smooth over Rufus’ poor choice to burn the drapes. At this point in the novel, Rufus is truly grateful for their help and want to help Dana in return by getting her safely to Alice’s house.
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3. Dana walks quietly past the small slave quarter cabins on the Weylin plantation, and reaches the edge of the woods. As she gets lost in the trees, she is startled by a rabbit jumping out of a bush. For a second, Dana fears for her life and gets dizzy, but the moment passes when she sees that it is just a small animal and not a threat. She makes it to the road and walks for a while before she hears a strange sound. Realizing almost too late that the sound is horse hoof beats, Dana jumps into the bushes to hide.
Dizziness has previously meant that Dana is about to travel through time, but she steadies once she sees that the noise is not dangerous. This signals that her travels are connected in some way to feelings of being in life-threatening danger. Dana is right to be wary, as her unfamiliarity with details of life in the past (such as what hoof-beats sound like) could be very dangerous.
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From the bushes, Dana sees eight white men ride by and head in the direction of Alice Greenwood’s house. Dana tentatively follows them from a safe distance and comes across a small log cabin. Dana watches from behind a tree as the white men pound open the Greenwoods’ door. The men drag a black man, a black woman, and a small black girl out of their house.
White men are probably the biggest threat to Dana in this time period, as they will assume that she is a runaway slave and decide to bring her to “justice.” Though Alice and her mother are free blacks, they are still vulnerable to anything that white men choose to do, including breaking and entering.
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Dana overhears the white men say that the black man snuck away without a pass. The black man tries to make excuses and explanations, but the white men force him over to a tree dangerously close to Dana’s hiding spot and tie the black man’s hands around the trunk. Dana notices that the black man is naked, and that the black woman only has a blanket wrapped around her. The white men take the blanket and jeer at the woman.
As a slave, the man at Alice’s house has no rights in the face of whatever these white men choose to do to him. Even small “crimes” could be punished harshly with impunity for the white attackers. The white men also attack the black family’s dignity by laughing at their nakedness, another symbol of their physical vulnerability in this moment.
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One of the white men gets a whip from a bag on his horse and starts to whip the black man. The black man is able to withstand several blows in silence, but begins to scream when he can no longer take the pain. Dana is overwhelmed by the smell of the man’s blood and sweat, and the sounds of his torment, but she can do nothing without giving away her own hiding place. The actual sight of a man being tortured is nothing like the violence Dana has seen on the news or in movies. She fights the urge to vomit and tries to think of other things, realizing that she is as prepared for this awful sight as the poor black child who is forced to watch this whipping as well.
This harsh scene of violence is devastating for Dana to witness, but unfortunately a common occurrence for slaves in the Antebellum South. The man is given no chance to explain and receives no fair trial before white men attack him, and the use of the whip underscores how unbalanced the power dynamics are in this interaction. Dana is in the same situation as the young girl, seeing this violence up close for the first time even though Dana thought that the news had desensitized her. The visceral reality of violence is always much more immediate than violence filtered through media.
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Desperate to think of anything but the whipping happening in front of her, Dana thinks of the name for the white men who keep “order” among the slaves by terrifying and torturing black people: Patrols, the forerunners of the Ku Klux Klan. The whipping finally ends as one of the white men unties the black man from the tree and drags the man over to tie him behind his horse. Another Patrol member speaks quietly to the black woman, then punches her to the ground before the whole group rides off. They head for the Weylin manor, luckily missing the tree where Dana is hiding.
White people have the power to do whatever they want to slaves with the full support of the law. The history of these patrollers carries over into later generations in the KKK, showing the continuous flow of history and oppression. While the KKK is no longer a powerful organization in the U.S., police brutality against people of color continues to show this thread of disproportionate control over black people and black lives.
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Dana wonders if the black man belongs to Tom Weylin, and if that is the reason that Rufus is friends with Alice – the young black girl at the house. Dana creeps over to the young girl kneeling next to her unconscious mother, hoping she can help and also find safe lodging for the night. The girl looks up when Dana whispers, “Alice,” and Dana knows that these people are her relatives.
Dana now sees that she is related to both a slave owner and a slave family, assuming that Alice’s father is a slave on the Weylin plantation. Dana is caught between both worlds just as she is caught between the past and her present.
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Dana starts to help Alice’s unconscious mother, assuring Alice that her mother is not dead. Alice runs to get water at Dana’s request, then Dana washes the blood from Alice’s mother’s face. Dana notices how similar she and the woman look, though the woman is much stronger than Dana is after a life of surviving in this time period.
Dana’s ancestors may look similar, but Dana knows that these women are much stronger than she will ever be simply because of the world they live in. Butler admires and praises the endurance of people like Alice and her mother who live through hell but keep trying anyway.
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Gradually, Alice’s mother wakes up and calls for Alice. The woman panics as she realizes that Dana, a stranger, is holding her head, but Dana reassures her that she is a friend and a freewoman. The woman glances at Dana’s modern clothing and guesses that Dana is actually a runaway, but Dana repeats that she was born free. The woman is wary of inviting more trouble in tonight, but agrees to let Dana come into the house.
Dana’s clothing marks her as a suspicious character, because her modern attire looks like men’s clothing—and women slaves would sometimes dress as men to offer some extra protection as they tried to run away. Though Alice’s mother sees the danger that housing a runaway might bring, she still risks herself in order to help another person. Alice’s mother’s spirit may be dampened, but it is not broken.
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Dana helps the woman into the house and hopes that the Greenwoods can tell her the best way to go North, though conditions there are still restricted for black people. Alice’s mother asks who sent Dana here, and Dana tells her that Rufus gave her directions. Alice reassures her mother that Rufus won’t tell. Dana asks Alice’s mother if Tom Weylin owns her husband, and Alice’s mother nods sadly. Alice’s father is in trouble for continuing to see his free wife when Tom Weylin told him to choose a new wife on the plantation so that the Weylins will own all of his children.
Though the North is ostensibly “free” for black people, Butler recognizes that running to the North would not feel like freedom to Dana because there was still wide-spread institutional discrimination there. Butler also underscores the emotional trauma of slavery in the disregard for family ties. Alice’s father must have known the consequences of continuing to see his wife, but that bond was important enough to defy the rules.
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Alice’s mother asks Dana where she is from, noticing that Dana speaks with a strange accent. Dana tells her she is from New York, thinking that California is still a Spanish colony at this point. Dana adds that her husband is waiting for her at home, letting her longing for Kevin bleed into her voice. Alice’s mother assumes that Dana was kidnapped by slave catchers in New York, and tells Dana she can stay at the Greenwood cabin until tomorrow night and then leave for another safe house towards the North.
Dana’s speech is notable not just for her lack of a Southern accent, but because her polished words contrast with the colloquial speech of the free blacks and slaves during this time period. Dana’s real love for Kevin lends strength to her lies. Butler again points out how important the bond between Dana and Kevin is, even after Dana has seen the extreme violence that white men can commit against black people.
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Dana, Alice’s mother, and Alice begin to head to bed when Alice’s mother realizes she has left the blanket outside. Dana volunteers to get it, but runs into a young white man outside. The young man seems confused by how similar Dana and Alice’s mother look, but then notices that Dana is dressed like a boy and assumes that Dana is Mrs. Greenwood’s runaway sister. The man grabs Dana by the arm, but Dana digs her nails into his wrist and breaks free.
The undercurrent of the white man’s conversation with Dana suggests that he came back in order to take advantage of Alice’s mother sexually. He does not see black women as anything more than objects, easily replacing Alice’s mother with Dana simply because she is available. This white man is clearly used to taking whatever he wants in the moment.
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Dana runs back to the cabin, only to find Alice’s mother blocking the door. The young white man catches up to Dana and drags her down. Dana scrambles up and runs into the forest but the man catches her again. He tackles Dana to the ground and beats her. Dana manages to get her hands on the man’s face, but is too sickened by the thought of gouging the man’s eyes to hurt him and escape. The man laughs and rips open Dana’s shirt. As the man tears at Dana’s bra, she lunges to the side and grabs a heavy tree branch. Dana hits the man across the skull with the branch and he collapses. As Dana tries to stand, she worries that the man will kill her when he wakes. Dana then falls unconscious.
Though it would be heroic of Alice’s mother to save Dana from the white man, Alice’s mother is portrayed as doing what she has to in order to survive. Dana is still not adapted to this harsh way of life, as seen by her reluctance to hurt the white man even as he is attacking her. When Dana is able to knock the man unconscious, she is still afraid for her life – thus sending her back to the present, even though she doesn’t realize it.
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5. When Dana wakes, she is terrified that the patroller is still there before realizing that she is safe in bed with Kevin by her side. Kevin asks what happened, telling Dana that she was gone for three minutes this time. Dana closes her eyes, too weary to explain anything. Kevin wants to take Dana to the hospital, but Dana is too nervous about the possibility of transporting from the hospital to leave the house.
Kevin, though the person that Dana trusts above all others, is still a white man and thus reminds Dana of the patroller as she regains consciousness. Kevin clearly cares only for Dana’s well-being when he suggests taking her to the hospital, but also respects Dana’s choice not to go. Dana has full agency in her relationship with Kevin, a stark contrast to her experiences in the past.
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Kevin pushes for more details about Dana’s trip. She manages to tell him that she was there for hours and attacked by a patroller before she begins to slip back to sleep. Kevin startles her awake again and asks if Dana was raped. Dana says no, then falls asleep.
Kevin’s questions stem from concern for Dana, but he is also very insistent when he asks her to describe her experience, echoing Rufus’ privileged demands to know more about Dana. Kevin recognizes how vulnerable Dana is in the past, understanding that women, especially black women, were almost always open to attack.
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6. Dana wakes again, seeing that Kevin has cleaned the blood off of her and tied a canvas bag with clothing and a knife in it to Dana’s wrist. Dana kisses Kevin to wake him and Kevin is elated to see that Dana is still there. Dana explains about the patroller and the information she found out about the Weylin plantation in Maryland. As Dana describes the family connection between her, Rufus, and Alice, Kevin questions whether Dana hallucinated all of this based on information she already knew about her family. Angry, Dana reminds Kevin about her injuries and the resemblance between her and Alice’s mother.
Kevin seeks to protect Dana whenever possible, giving her supplies for the possibility that this time travel might happen again. Dana again bears the proof of this travel on her body, helping to solidify the fact that this is not a hallucination, and emphasizing the symbolic nature of her injuries as representative of historical trauma.
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Kevin assures Dana that he believes her and begins to think of ways to protect Dana on her trips. He brings out the knife, and Dana knows that she is prepared to use it after her experience with the patroller. Kevin asks Dana to show him that she can use it, then is surprised when Dana lunges close to him without giving him warning. Dana reminds Kevin that she won’t be in any fair fights.
After initial questions, Kevin returns to supporting Dana unconditionally. Dana now understands how savage the world of the past is and what she might have to do in order to survive there. She is willing to do what it takes, even if it might break the code of ethics she previously lived by.
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Dana is still concerned by all the horrible things she has read about in the experiences of slaves. Kevin suggests that Dana pose as a free black person, and the couple begin researching what a certificate of freedom would have looked like. None of their books are helpful, so Kevin suggests that they write Dana a pass. Dana gets a small pad of paper from the office and the Atlas. She tears out the map of Maryland to help her potentially run away.
Butler points out how important it is that Dana and Kevin know about the past. They have the advantage of knowledge to help them as they try to make sure that Dana will be able to survive, yet the lack of records about this point in history makes it difficult for them to find the appropriate information. Butler advocates for increased historical inquiry while recognizing that reading history books is not the same as actually experiencing life.
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Kevin reminds Dana to tie the emergency bag back to her wrist, then wonders aloud how Dana might control when she comes home. He questions Dana’s experience with the rabbit that made her feel dizzy and notes that fear seems to have something to do with it. Dana points out that she was afraid of the patroller, but didn’t come home until she had knocked him out. Kevin responds that Dana was afraid that the patroller would kill her if he woke up, suggesting that the travel seems tied to moments when Dana believes her life is in danger. Dana clarifies this theory: Rufus’s fear of death calls Dana into the past, and her own fear of death sends her home.
The life and death stakes of Dana’s time travel mirror the heightened stakes of all the decisions Dana makes in the past. This harsher world demands that Dana pay more attention just to survive. The familial connection between Dana and Rufus also seems to contribute to their time travel, especially as Dana would cease to exist if Rufus died before he helped sire Dana’s ancestor Hagar. Kevin and Dana work together to fill out this hypothesis, as they continue to support and complement each other.
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Kevin is excited to understand how the time travel works, but Dana is upset that death is such an integral part of the process. Kevin tries to comfort her fears by reminding her that her ancestors survived somehow, but Dana doesn’t think that she is as strong as her ancestors. Furthermore, she doesn’t want to be a part of the violence in the past, by either killing other people or getting killed herself. Kevin backs down, then asks if he looks like the patroller. Dana says no—Kevin is what she needs to come home to.
Kevin has more distance from the time travel and the violence of the past, so he is able to see its more fantastical aspects. Meanwhile Dana is emotionally entangled in the awful things that the past might to do her or make her do. Likewise, Kevin—as a white person—is more distanced from issues of race and can ignore things that Dana has to deal with daily. Dana sees Kevin as her home, tying home to a person rather than a place.
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