Kindred Story Analysis

The novel Kindred by Octavia Butler, published in 1979, is a science fiction/slave narrative about Dana, a young African American woman and aspiring writer, who finds herself shunted between her home in Los Angeles in 1976 and a pre-civil war Maryland plantation, back and forth, over multiple time-travel trips, where she meets her ancestors. This proud, free black woman is forced into slavery and serve as a concubine to the master of the plantation. Dana learns she must survive to finally return to the current day, no matter what decisions she must make. Her white husband from 1976 joins her in Maryland at some point, which complicates their interracial relationship in both places.

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First edition cover of Kindred

What breaks the mold on this novel is that it is difficult to define genres–is it just science fiction and slave narrative? It goes beyond and is a grim fantasy grounded in accurate, real history. It is also about how a present-day, black woman comes to terms with her ancestors’ and the nation’s slavery in a deeply personal way.

Using time travel makes this novel perfect for a visual medium with Dana violently being pushed and pulled from one century to another without her consent. In this way, the author creates many questions and dilemmas that require a solution that may or may not have one. For instance, in a jump from L.A., to Maryland, Dana takes a knife and a compass because she had learned she needed tools to escape from the plantation. The tools had to be small and undetectable because they were not of the same time period. In another instance, Dana learned that for her husband to go with her, he had to be holding her hand or he would not be able to time travel.

I would graph this story in a sideways zigzag of time, with movement forward in both centuries but in Los Angeles, there is much different time elapsing from one trip to another than in Maryland. For instance, if Dana spends two months in Maryland, she may only have been gone hours when she returns in Los Angeles. There is no pattern between the two locations in the time travel.

This is a very emotionally raw story, with great significance given to relationships. Dana has to ferret out the relationships among the slaves, then the slaves to the slave owners, then among the owners–these are all different communities. Then she has to figure out how to survive within all of this and learn what to hide about herself and what to expose. Then she has to deal with her relationship with her husband, the two of them crafting and acting out the correct story in the 19th century so they won’t be exposed as married to each other. Then finally, she has to get back to the present day with her body and soul intact.

This makes good storytelling because of so much binary opposition that will especially make it interesting in the visual medium. Los Angeles and Maryland. 1976 and pre-Civil War. Apartment flat and slave plantation. Black woman married to white man. Free woman and slave woman. Science fiction and real history. Dana is literate and the slave owner’s son and most of the slaves were not.

It is dramatic, passionate, violent, emotional, real, visually compelling, and most important, socially current. Each character is well developed and the plot moves along very quickly with good tension and complexity. The story tells us about who we are as Americans and how we can, and need to, co-exist with our very mixed cultures. In the end, though, no one comes out whole and there are no fairy tale endings for any of us. Slavery has left its scars and amputated limbs on America, just as it did with Dana and her husband.

The television pilot is set to come out in 2022 produced by FX Productions, which should have some amazing visuals still to be imagined. It is set to be an eight-episode series.

Kindred’ Pilot Based On Octavia E. Butler Novel Picked Up To Series By FX

The Kindred story has been created as an audio drama through the Seeing Ear Theatre and is available in that medium.

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