“Kindred” by Octavia Butler (The Fall)

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Our protagonist, Dana, starts the chapter showing us how she met and fell in love with her husband, Kevin, and what her life was like just prior to meeting him. We get to know her.

Something I found poignant was how she referred to her job with the casual labor industry as “a slave market.” When I read that in the first paragraph I knew this chapter was going to show Dana’s perspective change. Looking back, she states: “It was nearly always mindless work, and as far as most employers were concerned, it was done by mindless people. Nonpeople rented for a few hours, a few days, a few weeks. It didn’t matter.” She is an aspiring writer and though she feels this job is beneath her, she does it—half asleep and popping No Doz but she does it. A new perspective for her came painfully in “The Fire” as she saw real slaves and was even beaten by the patroller, but because of this flashback of sorts into her past we get to see where it started and appreciate her shift of awareness.

We also learn on page 57 that Kevin, her husband or at this point future husband is “a kindred spirit crazy enough (like her) to keep on trying.” In this one line, we know he will keep trying for as long as she does and that tells us all we really need to know—he will be her partner. They’re kindred spirits, similar to Dana and her ancestors. So on the very next page when we see them “fall” together into the past to the moment when Rufus just “fell” and broke his leg, it’s not just an interesting thematic namedrop moment (even though I loved that we were given “kindred” and “fall” in the same chapter) but we also know he will play a big role in Dana’s adventure.

In “The Fall,” Dana and Kevin acquire motivation. In “The Fire” it was all about how Dana was going to get out of this place and time and back home, but in “The Fall” it’s about supporting each other and after Rufus—not just because he’s a child who needs help but also because he is, in such a profound way, Dana’s past. By helping him, she also helps her ancestors and herself.

My thoughts are summed up by Butler in this paragraph: “I was the worst possible guardian for him—a black to watch over him in a society that considered blacks subhuman, a woman to watch over him in a society that considered women perennial children. I would have all I could do to look after myself. But I would help him as best I could. And I would try to keep friendship with him, maybe plant a few ideas in his mind that would help both me and the people who would be his slaves in the years to come. I might even make things easier for Alice.”

As the chapter progresses, this motivation grows. Later in a conversation with Kevin, who has been hired to teach Rufus, Dana says, “Let me help you with Rufus as much as I can. Let’s see what we can do to keep him from growing up into a red-haired version of his father.”

While Kevin and Dana share perspective in their present day, it seems, their motivations in the past do not line up. While Dana is beginning to bond and show desire to fix things, Kevin is still motivated by “home.” On page 100 he says, “Look, I won’t say I understand how you feel about this because maybe that’s something I can’t understand. But as you said, you know what’s going to happen. It already has happened. We’re in the middle of history. We surely can’t change it. If anything goes wrong, we might have all we can do to survive it. We’ve been lucky so far.” I wonder if this difference of motivations will cause conflict later between Dana and Kevin. 

Going back to Prose and analyzing what she says in her chapters on character and dialogue along with what I’m trying to accomplish as a writer, I am absorbing a ton through reading Kindred. Through lesson with Prose and through example with Kindred, this week I learned the importance of depth when it comes to characters. Butler gives Dana depth by sharing her original perspective and motivation and then changing both of those things dramatically.

It’s not enough to know what a character looks like; it’s important to go deeper. We must figure out and then project to the reader the character’s motivations. It’s also crucial to give a character perspective so that it can change as he or she grows.

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