Kindred

Kindred Chapter 6: The Rope Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
1. Dana wakes in her own bed at home with her wrists heavily bandaged and Kevin asleep beside her. Kevin wakes and gently scolds Dana for doing something so dangerous to get home. Kevin had a doctor friend of his come over to tend to Dana’s cuts, which luckily were not as deep as Dana meant them to be. The doctor had suggested that Dana needs a psychiatrist, but Dana would rather not deal with the amount of lies she would have to tell. Kevin tells her she was gone for three hours in the present, though Dana spent eight months with the Weylins.
Kevin’s concern for Dana shows how deeply he cares for her, but his scolding suggests that he does not trust Dana to know how to make her own choices. Kevin is thinking of Dana’s physical well-being, while Dana has chosen to prioritize her mental well-being and escape slavery through any means necessary.
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Dana fills Kevin in on the details of Hagar’s birth, Tom’s death, and the changes in Rufus’s personality. Kevin suggests that if she goes back, Dana should let Rufus die, now that Hagar is safe. Dana mentions that Carrie told her that if she lets Rufus die, all of the Weylin slaves will be sold. Kevin is surprised to find out that Carrie can communicate at all, but understands how terrible being sold would be for all the Weylin slaves.
Dana thought that she would be free once Hagar was born, but she still feels an obligation to keep Rufus safe for the sake of the Weylin slaves. She no longer cares for Rufus in any way, but feels an obligation to protect her chosen family of fellow slaves. Kevin could not see Carrie’s intelligence, a symbol of how many white people were not able to see the humanity of black people because they did not expect them to be capable of having a voice or opinions.
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2. Dana and Kevin enjoy 15 days together, long enough for the couple to come back together and heal the rifts that the time travel created in their relationship. After two weeks, Kevin tells Dana to stop dragging around her emergency bag, but Dana knows that Rufus will call her eventually and she needs to be ready.
Dana and Kevin’s bond was tested, but proves to be strong enough to withstand these traumas. However, Dana is less able to forget the past than Kevin is, as it affects her more deeply. Similarly, many white Americans are ready to forget America’s history of slavery while black Americans are still dealing with the consequences of that awful institution.
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Kevin misreads Dana’s unease as eagerness to return to the Weylin estate, and suspects a relationship between Rufus and Dana. Dana flatly denies this, and swears that if Rufus ever tries to rape her, she will kill him. Dana refuses to fully become a Weylin man’s property, like poor Tess, even if she has to pretend to be a slave to survive in that time period. Without some semblance of bodily autonomy, the tentative balance between Rufus and Dana will force Dana to make the ultimate choice of killing Rufus. Kevin comments that Dana wouldn’t be here if her black ancestors had thought that way, but Dana knows that she doesn’t have the endurance that her ancestors had. The only worry left is that Dana won’t be able to return home if Rufus is not alive.
Attempted rape is introduced as the final boundary that Dana will never allow Rufus to cross. Dana has let Rufus take many liberties with her life, but she cannot allow him to cross this line without completely giving up on her own agency. When pushed to that extreme, Dana is willing to contemplate murder—though she initially balked at that type of violence when she first traveled to the past. Butler points out how much strength it took for people to continue living as slaves for the sake of their families and future generations.
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3. On the Fourth of July, Kevin and Dana have friends over, but Dana refuses to go with them to watch the fireworks. As the friends are leaving, Dana feels dizzy and grabs her emergency bag just before she is transported to Rufus. Rufus stumbles over Dana and sprawls both of them onto an ant hill. Dana notices that Rufus looks more tired and haggard than she has ever seen him. Dana asks Rufus what’s wrong, and Rufus stands up and marches Dana back to the plantation. Once they reach the barn door, Rufus opens the barn and points inside. Alice has hung herself, wearing her best clothes and with her hair neatly brushed.
On America’s Independence Day, in the year of the bicentennial celebration, Dana is ironically brought back into slavery. Though America may have been conceived with ideals of equality and justice, Butler points out that those concepts were not true during the majority of American history (including at its founding). This trip is the first time that Rufus has not been in immediate, visible danger, but Alice’s death suggests that Dana is meant to stop Rufus from killing himself. Alice’s neat appearance suggests that she planned this act in advance.
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Dana struggles to cut Alice down, then holds Alice’s body and cries. Rufus steps into the barn, confirming that Alice did this to herself. Dana asks what happened to Alice’s children, but Rufus walks away. Dana goes to find Sarah in the cookhouse and tells her Alice is dead. Sarah hisses that Rufus killed Alice, even if Alice herself tied the noose. Sarah explains that Rufus sold Joe and Hagar after Alice tried to run again. Sarah had to take care of Alice after that, bringing back memories of Sarah’s own wish to die after her children had been sold.
Rufus pushed Alice into suicide by cutting off all the other options in her life. Robbed of her freedom and her children, Alice saw no purpose to her life and made the extreme choice to end it for good. Butler does not condone this choice, but she does present it as an understandable response to the horrible things that Alice has had to endure. Sarah has sympathy for Alice’s choice after her own experience losing her children, showing how important family is to those who have nothing else to call their own.
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Carrie comes in crying, and signs that Rufus wants Dana in the house. Dana goes to the library, finding Rufus there with a gun in his hand. Dana realizes that the threat to Rufus’s life is himself this time. Dana harshly asks Rufus how he could sell his own children, and Rufus reveals that the children were never actually sold. Joe and Hagar are currently in Baltimore with Rufus’s aunt, so Rufus could scare Alice into never running again. Dana asks Rufus to free Joe and Hagar now that he has taken away their mother, but Rufus accuses Dana of causing all of this by leaving him. Dana just touches her face where Rufus hit her and tells Rufus to free his children and raise them legally.
Rufus’s use of emotional manipulation backfired in the worst way possible. Rufus has actually caused his own greatest fear to come true, as losing Alice to death is even worse than having her run away and leave Rufus behind. Yet Rufus still refuses to take responsibility for his own actions, suggesting that this terrible event is Dana’s fault for making the choice to leave Rufus in order to preserve her own sanity. Dana shows great optimism, hoping that she can convince Rufus to save his family and make amends for the damage he’s done to Alice.
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4. Alice’s funeral is the next day, with the full Weylin plantation in attendance. Some of the slaves whisper that Alice is going to hell for committing suicide, but they stay quiet in front of Rufus. After Alice is buried, Dana avoids the dinner in Alice’s honor and goes up to the library to think and write out her feelings. The next day, Rufus takes Dana to town and lets Dana watch while he draws up certificates of freedom for Joe and Hagar.
The religious argument against suicide was another reason that slaves did not often take this course of action to escape their dreadful circumstances. Many slaves wanted to have the hope of heaven to greet them after a hard lifetime of toil. Dana uses writing as her own outlet to remind herself of her independence and avoid giving in to her desire to escape. Her efforts are rewarded when Rufus listens to her advice and frees his children, making them legally part of the Weylin family.
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Rufus goes to Baltimore to collect the children, leaving Evan Fowler to watch Dana and make sure that she doesn’t send herself home again. Dana hides in Margaret’s room to escape Evan’s presence and is surprised to find herself enjoying conversations with the lonely old woman. Rufus returns with the children, and Joe rushes up to Dana chattering about his “Daddy.” Dana is surprised, but happy that Rufus has decided to be a true father for Joe.
Butler makes Margaret more sympathetic, redeeming her somewhat in her old age. Rufus too seems to have finally changed. Rufus was never close to his own father, but tries to correct these errors with his own son, though it is too late to be a full family now that Alice is dead.
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Dana resumes classes for all the children on the plantation, and slowly works to persuade Rufus to free all of his slaves in his will. Rufus makes no promises but doesn’t resist either. Finally, Rufus admits that he would be crazy to free the slaves in his will and tell Dana, for fear that Dana will kill him as soon as the slaves’ fates are assured. Rufus reveals that his greatest fear is that Dana will leave him when he needs her most. Dana tries to tell Rufus that she has no control over when she leaves, and that Rufus himself should be more careful, but Rufus won’t listen.
Rufus finally sees how much control Dana has over his life, as Dana might be able to escape to her present instead of facing the consequences that another slave would have to deal with for killing a white person. Rufus expects the worst of Dana, showing that he has never been able to trust anyone or believe in their innate goodness, especially as he himself so often lies and hurts others to get what he wants. Rufus again shirks responsibility for his own life, leaving it up to Dana to get him out of trouble instead of taking care of himself.
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Rufus comments that Dana isn’t really black, and really belongs with white people. Dana responds that she could never belong with people who sell a man just for talking to her. Rufus feels guilty, but asks Dana not to leave this time and to stay to take care of Alice’s children. Dana reminds Rufus that she has to get home to Kevin. Dana knows that, even if Rufus promises never to hurt her, eventually Rufus will lash out at her. Dana gets up to leave, but Rufus stops her.
Rufus’s claims that Dana is not truly black on some level claim that Dana is a true part of the Weylin family. However, Dana has realized that her family truly is her fellow slaves who have suffered with her, rather than the white people with whom she shares blood. Rufus wants Dana to take Alice’s place for good, refusing to let go of anyone that he considers his possession.
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Rufus talks about the first time Alice came to his room. Rufus was afraid that Alice would somehow kill him in his sleep, but he wanted her so badly that he didn’t care. Rufus steps closer to Dana and comments again how similar Dana and Alice are, and he grabs Dana’s arms. Dana threatens to abandon him for good and pulls away. Dana runs up the stairs and goes to the attic to get her knife.
Rufus again shows his impulsive and reckless heart, as Alice did in fact threaten to kill Rufus, but was unable to go through with it. Dana may be similar to Alice, but she is ready to kill Rufus if Rufus tries to rape her. Rufus may have claimed to love Alice, but his love objectifies Alice and makes her easily replaceable rather than respecting her as a full person and mourning her loss.
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Rufus follows Dana up to the attic. Dana keeps her knife hidden in her her bag, as Rufus apologizes to Dana. Dana is unsure why Rufus is apologizing, though he has never before said those words out loud. Rufus goes on to describe how lonely he is, a feeling that Dana intimately understands. Dana thinks that Rufus at least still has his children. Dana herself had been the one to tell Joe that his mother had died, and had held him when he cried. Dana hopes that Rufus will step up to be a parent for Joe and Hagar.
Rufus’s previous apologies came as actions or gifts, as he never seemed fully capable of admitting that he did something wrong. Rufus’s apology foreshadows that he will not be able to overcome the worst parts of his nature and become a parent for Joe and Hagar. Rufus lets his loneliness drive him crazy and he takes out that pain on other people rather than recognizing the pain and coming to terms with it by making an equal connection with others.
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Now in the attic, Rufus sighs that Alice hated him for so long, but had finally accepted him right before she ran away. Rufus takes Dana’s hand and wonders aloud when Dana will stop hating him. Dana’s other hand clenches involuntarily on the handle of her knife. Rufus again tells Dana that she should be responsible for Joe and Hagar, but Dana reminds Rufus that it is his job to stay alive and take care of his children. Rufus pushes Dana back on her pallet in the attic and lays his head on her shoulder.
Rufus expects Dana to act just as Alice did, forgetting that the two women are not actually the same person. Dana’s modern upbringing has given her greater ability to resist Rufus because Dana has more options for preserving her safety than Alice ever had. Rufus tries to guilt Dana with familial obligation (although this also brings up the incestuous implications of his desire), but Dana now understands that she has to keep herself safe instead of worrying only about protecting other people.
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Rufus and Dana lay calmly for a minute, and Dana realizes that she might eventually forgive him even for this, and relax into Rufus’s desire. Then Dana’s resolve hardens and she twists sharply away from Rufus. Knowing that Rufus’s gentleness will only last as long as Rufus is happy, Dana prepares to kill the man who has been like a younger brother to her. She sinks the knife into Rufus’ side, then again into his back as Rufus screams and struggles. Rufus punches Dana in the face, but Dana keeps her grip. Rufus collapses across Dana and goes still. Dana, half-conscious, vomits.
The temptation to take the “easy” path and give in to Rufus is strong, but Butler maintains that Dana would die a bitter death like Alice’s if she were to give up her bodily freedom and autonomy in that way. Dana cannot continue to forgive Rufus because he is family. Rufus’s definition of love can only destroy everything it touches, and Dana can no longer wait for Rufus to become a better person. As Rufus crosses the final boundary of Dana’s freedom and agency by trying to rape her, Dana is forced to make the decision to kill him.
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Nigel comes in and sees Rufus bloody on top of Dana. Rufus moans once more and then goes completely limp. Dana pushes Rufus’s body away, but Rufus’s hand remains clamped to Dana’s arm. Dana convulses with sickness and she feels something hard clamp down on her arm, pressing forcefully until Dana’s arm is melted. Somehow, Dana’s arm then becomes stuck in the plaster of her living room wall at home. Dana stares at her arm for a second, then screams as an avalanche of pain hits her.
Rufus’s hold on Dana continues after he dies, as seen in his hand still on her arm. Though Dana might be free of Rufus’s immediate influence on her life, she still bears the psychological scars of her time as a slave, and the violence she had to commit in order to survive with her freedom intact. Dana’s arm, stuck back in the past, represents the parts of Dana’s psyche that will never be able to heal after all the trauma she’s endured.
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