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Kindred by Octavia Butler engages the reader’s imagination by posing the question “what if?” you were catapulted to the antebellum past in the early 19th century. Reading Butler’s biography provides insight about why she was motivated to write a novel that uses magical realism to allow readers to experience the historical past through Dana’s (the protagonist) character; Butler relates that while attending Pasadena City College, one of her classmates (who she believed was adept at the history of diaspora Africans in America) said that he would kill those who came before him starting with his parents. Butler was appalled but his statement got her thinking about the slave past and what we don’t know about how they were able to survive the brutality on slave ships and plantations. You’ve listened to the NPR podcast that discusses “Why Schools Fail to Teach History’s Hard Lessons” (Links to an external site.) And in past Learning Modules you’ve read slave narratives such as Olaudah Equiano, Mary Prince, and Frederick Douglass and interpreted poetry by Phillis Wheatley, Francis Ellen Watkins Harper and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. You’ve also looked at paintings such as Tom Feelings’ “The Middle Passage”, “The Slave Ship” by J. M. W. Turner and the “Helping Hand” mural by Michael Rosato. Articles such as “The Laws of Slavery” and “Punishment Aboard a Slave Ship” and the short story “The People Could Fly” by Virginia Hamilton provide background information that informs your critical thinking process and provides fuel for your literary fire.
After reading the assigned chapters in Kindred (e.g., the Prologue, “The River” and “The Fire”), write a journal that discusses your impressions about the complexities in the antebellum world of the novel. Resources such as “Post-traumatic Slave Syndrome,” “Tracking Down a Slave’s Bill of Sale,” and “The Hero’s Journey and the Monomyth” can be used to help you frame your journal reflection. Butler presents complex themes that are complicated by the characters and events in Kindred including,
Family (e.g., extended family, home)
Freedom and Privilege (e.g., house vs. field slaves, escape, white privilege)
History and Trauma (eg,. post-traumatic slave syndrome, untaught history)
Interracial relationships (e.g., miscegenation, partus sequitur ventruem)
Slave codes (e.g., controlling behavior, insurrections)
Survival (e.g., post-traumatic slave syndrome, masking emotions, navigation)
You can use one of the above themes or one of your own choosing to frame your analysis so that your journal is focused.