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.
Family and Home ThemeTracker
Family and Home Quotes in Kindred
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
"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."
"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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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."
"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."
"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.”