Study Guide

Kindred Quotes

  • Violence

    I closed my eyes again remembering the way I had been hurt—remembering the pain. (Prologue.20)

    Dana gets to the point where her life is so messed up that the only thing keeping her grounded in reality is the pain she feels after being whipped. It's super-unpleasant, but she finds she needs to focus on this pain as much as possible to keep from losing her grip on reality.

    That was when I realized your arm wasn't just stuck, but that, somehow, it had been crushed right into the wall. (Prologue.31)

    The violence we find in this book doesn't only come from people. People's physical circumstances can also lead to a lot of violence. In this scene, Dana transports through time to find that her arm has reappeared inside one of the walls of her house, crushing the arm completely.

    "I asked her where you went […] and she got mad and said she didn't know. I asked her again later, and she hit me. And she never hits me." (2.2.51)

    Rufus' mother has never hit him before, but there's something about watching Dana disappear that makes her so uncomfortable she has no other way of expressing herself. This detail just goes to show that people tend to react violently whenever they're confronted with something they don't understand.

    "I burned the stable once […] I wanted Daddy to give me Nero—a horse I liked […] Daddy already has a lot of money. Anyway, I got mad and burned down the stable." (2.2.99)

    Rufus has learned from a young age that whenever he doesn't get something he wants, he can let off some steam by acting out in violent ways. This kind of behavior is exactly what makes him such a horrible person to deal with when he grows into an adult and has power over others.

    Tom Weylin had probably marked his son more than he knew with that whip. (2.4.33)

    Dana knows that Tom Weylin has used his whip on his son before. But the man probably doesn't realize how much long-term emotional damage he's doing to his son. In the end, all he's doing is creating a person who will one day grow up to be a violent man like himself.

    "I never thought you'd be fool enough to let a man beat you." (4.2.41)

    Dana's cousin thinks that Kevin has been beating Dana, and she's disappointed when she hears Dana deny it. She had always hoped Dana would be a strong enough person to get rid of an abusive husband.

    "Rufe, did you manage to rape that girl?" (4.4.35).

    Dana has tried really hard to help Rufus grow up into a good person. But she feels like a failure when she realizes Rufus has been going around trying to rape a black woman named Alice. Despite Dana's best efforts, Rufus thinks that black people (and especially women) are just things that he can use whatever way he wants.

    "They cut him! They cut off his ears!" (4.10.77)

    When Alice finally recovers her memory, she realizes that a bunch of white people caught her husband Isaac and cut off his ears as punishment for running away from the Weylin plantation. This kind of mutilation might make us squirm as readers, but it's important to acknowledge just how brutal the practice of American slavery was.

    I didn't want to depend on someone else's chance violence again—violence that, if it came, could be more effective than I wanted. (5.13.6)

    Dana is sick and tired of being at the mercy of any white person who feels like hitting her. She eventually decides that she needs to find some way of protecting herself, and that's when she starts carrying a knife around with her.

    "And now that the boy is dead, we have some chance of staying [sane]." (Epilogue.28)

    By the end of this book, we've seen a lot of violence. But the final piece of violence comes when Dana kills Rufus with a knife. There might be part of us that feels sorry for Rufus. But in the final line of the book, Kevin very clearly says he's glad Rufus is dead. Overall, the book might agree with him.

  • Race

    "A patroller is […] was a white man, usually young, often poor, sometimes drunk. He was a member of a group of such men organized to keep the blacks in line." (2.6.5)

    Dana's first encounter with patrollers isn't a good one. As she explains to her husband Kevin, these patrollers were people back in slave times who walked around harassing and beating up black people. Their job was to keep slaves obedient, but the truth was that they tended to do whatever they felt like with black people.

    "I'm not sure it's possible for a lone black woman—or even a black man—to be protected in that place." (2.6.35)

    Dana doesn't believe it's possible for a black person to even exist in 1815 Maryland without being in immediate danger. Their skin color is enough to get them beaten up even if they aren't doing anything in particular.

    "That's better than saying you're his wife. Nobody would believe that." (3.2.144)

    Rufus thinks Dana is lying when she says she's Kevin's wife. In his world, marriage between blacks and whites is illegal and no one could ever imagine the possibility of things being otherwise.

    The black man gave him a look of disgust that would surely have angered [Weylin] if he had seen it. (3.3.7)

    Tom Weylin's black slave gives Tom a look of disgust when he worries about money more than his son's health. But this slave needs to be careful because Weylin would no doubt give him a whipping if he saw his expression. The irony here is that this slave seems to care more about Weylin's son than Weylin does.

    "Why you try to talk like white folks?" (3.3.116)

    One of the biggest challenges Dana faces when she goes back in time is disguising the way she talks. Unlike any of the slaves she meets, she's been through the modern American education system and she has a much bigger vocabulary than anyone from 1815 Maryland—whether they're black or white.

    "I thought I knew her […] I mean, I did know her. But I guess we've lost touch more than I thought" (4.1.30).

    Kevin is disgusted with his sister's inability to accept the fact that he's marrying a black woman. He'd gone through life thinking his sister was progressive. But it just goes to show you how different people can be when they're confronted directly with their own hidden racism.

    "Do your job! Go tell him! That's what you for—to help white folks keep n—s down. That's why he sent you to me. They be calling you mammy in a few years." (4.11.114)

    Alice accuses Dana of betraying her entire race when Dana tries to convince Alice to sleep with Rufus. Little does Alice know that Dana is her descendant and that Dana will never be born unless Alice gives in to Rufus' advances.

    In fact, [the South Africans] were living in the past as far as their race relations went. They lived in ease and comfort supported by huge numbers of blacks whom they kept in poverty and held in contempt. (5.1.105)

    Dana returns to 1976 from the past only to discover on the news that things haven't changed all that much for certain parts of the world. South Africa didn't get rid of its racist apartheid system until the early nineties, which goes to show just how much racism can continue to pervade society even when we don't notice it.

    "You don't want to hear me, get out of here. The way you always suckin' up to that woman is enough to make a body sick." (5.7.26)

    Alice doesn't let up when she's mad at Dana. She criticizes Dana for sucking up to Margaret Weylin, but Dana just wants to do whatever she can to stay out of trouble. Scenes like this just go to show that not all the conflict in this book is between black people and white people. Much of it is between black people or between white people.

    And we found Burger King and Holiday Inn and Texaco and schools with black kids and white kids together and older people who looked at Kevin and me, then looked again. (Epilogue.1)

    Even in modern times, Dana knows that people aren't quite ready to accept interracial marriages. She suggests that this racism is especially still present in the southern United States, probably because people from this area still suffer from a historical guilt that the rest of the country doesn't.

  • Slavery

    Patrollers made sure the slaves were where they were supposed to be at night, and they punished those who weren't. (2.6.7)

    Dana's first encounter with white violence comes when she runs into a group of patrollers whose job it is to keep slaves obedient to their masters. These people don't get paid for what they do. They do it because they like to exert power over other people.

    I was working out of a casual labor agency—we regulars called it a slave market. (3.1.2)

    Dana jokes about how people call her temp agency a "slave market," since these people get paid basement wages to do jobs that no one else wants to do. But the joke becomes a lot more poignant when you realize that Dana is going to find out exactly what it's like to live in a real slave market.

    He led the way past the main house away from the slave cabins and other buildings, away from the small slave children who chased each other and shouted and didn't understand yet that they were slaves. (3.4.24)

    Dana can't help but feel sad when she sees young black children running around and playing. The children are allowed to play because they're not old enough yet for fieldwork. They're so young and innocent that they don't realize what a difficult life they're going to have ahead of them.

    The ease. Us, the children… I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery. (3.7.77)

    Dana is disappointed by how easy it is to accept slavery as normal when the whole world around her supports it entirely. She'd like to think that one smart person could find a way to buck the system. But that's not how it all works out.

    "My father was a slave, and they sold him away from her. She said marrying a slave is almost bad as being a slave." (4.10.30)

    Alice admits that she's taking a great risk by being married to a slave, especially considering that she is a free woman. By entering Isaac's life, she basically risks (and eventually loses) her freedom. Her punishment for trying to help Isaac escape slavery is to become a slave herself.

    "It's good to have children […] Good to have sons. But it's so hard to see them be slaves." (5.5.2)

    Nigel talks to Dana about the conflict he feels when looking at his kids. On the one hand, he feels the joy of being a father. But on the other hand, he feels the pain of knowing that these children will grow up to be slaves.

    And in later papers, notice of the sale of the slaves from Mr. Rufus Weylin's estate. These slaves were listed by their first names with their approximate ages and their skills given. (Epilogue.5)

    Dana knew when she killed Rufus that she'd be dooming all of his slaves to be sold. She sadly confirms this fact when she checks an old newspaper and sees that all of Rufus' slaves were indeed sold off. Their lives probably got worse from that point on, and this is a guilt that Dana will have to carry around with her.

    Sarah was listed, but Joe and Hagar were not. Everyone else was listed. Everyone. (Epilogue.5)

    Dana likes to think that Alice's children—Joe and Hagar—became free after Rufus died. She can't be sure, but she does know that Hagar grew up to have children and that these children and grandchildren eventually led to Dana.

    I could find nothing in the incomplete newspaper records to suggest that he had been murdered, or even that the fire had been arson. (Epilogue.6)

    It looks like the slave Nigel did a good job of concealing the fact that Dana murdered Rufus by burning down the entire house. After all, the white people of the area would take brutal revenge on all of Rufus' slaves if they found out. They would want to set an example to discourage any other slaves from murdering their masters.

    "Sell him," he said. His smile was still in place, but there was no longer any humor in it. (5.11.13)

    Rufus doesn't want any black men hanging around Dana and hitting on her. When Dana asks what he's going to do about it, Rufus replies that he'll sell whoever's doing it. He even makes good on this threat later on when he sells a slave named Sam who's been chatting with Dana. It all goes to show just how much Rufus thinks of these human beings as his personal property.

  • Gender

    "I never thought you'd be fool enough to let a man beat you." (4.2.41)

    Dana's cousin is disappointed to think that Dana is protecting an abusive husband by refusing to tell the police about him. Little does she know that Dana has been taking abuse as a slave 150 years in the past. Try explaining that one to the cops.

    She also advised me to send the police after Kevin. She assumed my bruises were his work. (4.2.40)

    Dana's cousin isn't quite ready to let up on calling the cops on Kevin. She believes that modern women should protect themselves from men by using the law whenever they can. This is a luxury that Dana definitely doesn't have as a woman back in 1815 Maryland.

    I had helped [Tess] with the washing several times—had done as much of it as I could myself recently because Weylin had casually begun taking her to bed, and had hurt her. Apparently, she paid her debts. (4.10.91)

    Race isn't the only factor when it comes to Tom Weylin's power over his slaves. Gender is just as big of an issue, especially when Tom Weylin takes a fancy to one of his female slaves and starts bringing her to bed. We find out later on that Tom has had several children with black women. But he doesn't acknowledge any of them.

    "You damned black b—!" (5.2.61)

    Tom Weylin is not a fan of being threatened by Dana. And as we can see from this comment, he's just as annoyed by a woman talking back to him as he is by a black person talking back. With Dana's, the offense is doubly frustrating for him.

    I remembered suddenly the way he used to talk to his mother. If he couldn't get what he wanted from her gently, he stopped being gentle. Why not? She always forgave him. (5.6.85)

    In this passage, Dana outlines how Margaret Weylin's spoiling behavior toward Rufus is part of what makes him grow up to be so horrible to women. His mother has taught him that a woman will give him whatever he wants and forgive him immediately when he's cruel to them.

    "What you think your wants got to do with it?" (5.10.14)

    Alice is quick to remind Dana that her personal desires have nothing to do with whether Rufus gets to take her to bed. That's the toughest part about being a slave and a woman at the same time.

    "Some of his neighbors found out what I was doing and offered him fatherly advice." (5.13.5)

    Butler's use of the word "fatherly" in this sentence is striking because it shows how deeply Rufus' sense of masculinity is connected to his power over his slaves. Rufus only thinks of himself as a man insofar as he can control his slaves.

    "You mean you could forgive me for having been raped?" (6.2.44)

    Dana can't believe it when Kevin tells her he could forgive her if she were raped in the past. Comments like this help reveal that, even though he's a nice guy, Kevin doesn't fully understand the concept of a woman's right to control her own life. Basically, it's not his right to forgive or not forgive her for being raped.

    He had spent his life watching his father ignore, even sell the children he had had with black women. (5.11.26)

    It's no wonder Rufus doesn't respect black women. He's spent his entire life watching a father who has children with black women and sells them off for a profit as though they were investments instead of people.

  • Family

    "I burned the stable once […] I wanted Daddy to give me Nero—a horse I liked […] Daddy already has a lot of money. Anyway, I got mad and burned down the stable." (2.2.99)

    Rufus has grown up thinking that he should get whatever he wants whenever he wants it. And it's easy to see how he would feel this way, with a doting mother and an army of slaves ready to do his bidding.

    These people were my relatives, my ancestors. And this place could be my refuge. (2.3.42)

    Dana's first instinct after learning she's gone back in time is to find her ancestors and stay at their cabin. The instinct shows just how deeply she connects with the concept of family, even if it's family she's never encountered before.

    Tom Weylin had probably marked his son more than he knew with that whip. (2.4.33)

    Tom Weylin thinks he's teaching his son discipline by whipping him. But in reality he's teaching him just the opposite. He's teaching Rufus that when he (Rufus) is old enough, he'll get to be the one holding the whip.

    We could hurt each other too badly, kill each other too quickly in hatred. He was like a younger brother to me. (4.15.20)

    Dana feels a family connection to Rufus, even though she hates everything he stands for. It would be nice if she could help raise him to be a good person, but Dana knows that she would be fighting the entire world to make this happen.

    "It's good to have children […] Good to have sons. But it's so hard to see them be slaves." (5.5.2)

    Nigel loves having a family and having children. But he also feels sad that his children are going to grow up to be slaves. It becomes a tough decision to have a family at all in this case because you feel like you're dooming any new person you bring into the world.

    I remembered suddenly the way he used to talk to his mother. If he couldn't get what he wanted from her gently, he stopped being gentle. Why not? She always forgave him. (5.6.85)

    Dana can see a connection between Rufus' expectations of the world and the way his mother treats him. Rufus has learned from his mom that the world will give him anything he wants, and he gets violent when he doesn't get it.

    "When he does, and you read them to me, maybe I'll believe him. I'm tellin' you, he uses those children just the way you use a bit on a horse." (5.12.38)

    Alice isn't convinced that Rufus will ever live up to his word and set his children free. That's because he uses the children as leverage to get Alice to do whatever he wants. The moment he frees them, he'll lose his power over her.

    Alice had already told me she meant to ask for the boy's freedom. (5.11.41)

    Alice wants more than anything for her children to be free from a life of slavery. But Rufus keeps putting her off because he likes holding power over her. How's that for a healthy father-mother relationship?

    He had spent his life watching his father ignore, even sell the children he had had with black women. (5.11.26)

    Rufus takes his cue from his father when it comes to how he treats black women. His father only ever used black women as cooks and sex slaves, and it looks like Rufus is going to go down the same path.

    But all Alice knew was that her children were dead and she blamed Rufus. (5.5.10)

    On several occasions, Rufus has called his family doctor to take care of the babies he's had with Alice. But the doctor's old-fashioned remedies never worked and the children died. Alice now lives with the thought that Rufus has murdered her children.

  • Marriage

    Alice Greenwood. How would she marry this boy? Or would it be marriage. And why hadn't someone in my family mentioned that Rufus was white? (2.2.147)

    The first time she meets Alice, Dana knows that Alice will grow up to have children with Rufus Weylin. She can't imagine how, but she knows they'll get together. They probably won't ever get married (since it's illegal), but something's going to have to happen between them.

    "That's better than saying you're his wife. Nobody would believe that." (3.2.144)

    Rufus agrees that the best thing for Dana to do is tell people that Kevin is her white master. There's no way anyone would ever buy the idea in 1815 that a black woman and white man could be married. It would be as crazy in those days as the thought of someone marrying a chair or a rock.

    Then about four months after we'd met, Kevin said, "How would you feel about getting married?" (4.1.9)

    It's not the most dashing proposal in history, but Kevin decides to take the next step with Dana when he asks her to marry him. The move surprises Dana because they've been fighting for a while. She also doesn't realize just how much the engagement will anger her family.

    "Got to where he wanted to be more friendly than I did […] He tried to get Judge Holman to sell Isaac South to keep me from marrying him." (4.3.18)

    Alice explains how Rufus started paying sexual attention to her as they grew into teenagers. But he knew all along that Alice loved Isaac. He even tried to get Isaac sold away from his father's plantation just to prevent the two from getting married.

    She said it with no concern at all even though she knew her life could become much harder if Rufus married. (5.10.6)

    Alice doesn't seem to care if Rufus marries a white woman. She doesn't seem to realize, though, that this new wife will have it in for her from day one. The new wife isn't likely to appreciate the fact that Rufus is living with a slave who he's had several children with.

    At Christmas, there was another party—dancing, singing, three marriages. (5.11.5)

    Marriages seem to be a big part of the Old South celebrations we find in this book. And why not? A marriage is a good reason for a party, and a party is a good way to distract yourself from the fact that you're a slave.

    "One husband is enough for me." (5.11.14)

    Dana denies Rufus' suggestion that she will try to find a black husband now that she's stuck in the 1800s. Dana insists that she only wants one husband and that she'll get back to him no matter what it takes.

    "Found anybody you want to jump the broom with?" (5.11.10)

    Again, Rufus approaches Dana and asks if she plans on finding a black slave to marry. The reason he keeps asking is obviously because he feels possessive toward Dana and doesn't want her in the arms of any other man.

    "I told her everything. Even about you and Kevin being married. Especially about that." (4.4.63)

    Rufus says he told Alice all about Dana being married to Kevin. That's a big deal because Rufus is himself a white man who would like to marry Alice, a black woman. At least he says he'd like to marry her. It's possible that this is just another lie he tells himself to make himself feel better about forcing her into sex.

    "If I lived in your time, I would have married her. Or tried to." (4.4.73)

    Rufus insists that he would marry Alice if he could. But it's impossible to know just how genuine he is. It wouldn't be the first time he told a lie to get what he wanted.

  • Education

    "[Weylin] was pretty sure you could read and write. That's one reason he seemed so suspicious and mistrustful. Educated slaves aren't popular around here." (3.4.84)

    Dana learns that one of the main reason Tom and Margaret Weylin dislike her more than other slaves is because she can read and write. Educated slaves are unwanted because they might teach other slaves to yearn for something more than a life of slavery. And wherever you find dreamers, you'll find rebellion close behind.

    "Weylin warned me that it was dangerous to keep a slave like you—educated, maybe kidnapped from a free state—as far north as this." (3.4.90)

    Weylin warns Kevin that he's taking a huge risk by travelling with Dana so close to the free states. A smart woman like Dana could run away at any second and make it across the border into free territory. That's why Weylin advises Kevin to bring Dana farther south.

    Also, I don't think Margaret likes educated slaves any better than her husband does. (3.5.7)

    Margaret Weylin hates educated slaves because they threaten her as the lady of the house. As a woman living in 1815, Margaret probably doesn't have much education herself, and the thought of a black woman being smarter than her is more than she can handle.

    In a more rational society, an ability to write would be of great help to her. But here, the only people who could read her writing would be those who might punish her for being able to write. (3.8.61)

    The sad fact is that, even though reading and writing are great gifts, a black slave has little use for them. That's because the only people who can understand their writing will be the same people who'll punish them for writing in the first place.

    "See there? […] Educated n—r don't mean smart n—r, do it?" (4.12.22)

    Tom Weylin is quick to point out to Dana that there's a difference between being educated and being smart. Dana might have a map of the area, but if she were smart she would have known that it would take two men on horses no time at all to track her down.

    "Who in hell ever said you were an educated n—r? You can't even tell a decent lie. Six years for me is six years for you!" (5.2.36)

    Tom Weylin doesn't believe Dana when she says that time travels more slowly for her in 1976 than it does for Weylin in the 1800s. Weylin thinks that Dana must be stupid. In his mind, time travels at the same speed no matter where a person is. Let's not forget that Einstein's Theory of Relativity didn't come out until the twentieth century.

    It was dangerous to educate slaves, they warned. Education made blacks dissatisfied with slavery. (5.13.5)

    And here you have the main reason why white people don't want slaves being educated. All education seems to do is create slaves who are not happy about being slaves. Education offers them the ability to imagine a different world, and this usually leads to unrest.

    "You talk like a damn book." (4.4.88)

    Rufus doesn't like the way Dana talks because it sounds even "whiter" than the way most white people talk. In this case, education is something that's supposed to be for white people only.

    I said goodbye to Rufus the day my teaching finally did get me into trouble. (3.8.1)

    It's only a matter of time before Dana gets into trouble for teaching Nigel and Carrie how to read and write. Little does she know that a brutal whipping will be her punishment, since education is a huge no-no on the Weylin plantation.

    Tom Weylin didn't want me reading on my own, but he had ordered me to read to his son. (3.8.2)

    Tom Weylin doesn't like the fact that Dana can read. But now that he knows she can, he figures he might as well put her education at the service of his son Rufus. In this case, he's trying his best to turn a negative into a plus.

  • Power

    "You want her to read to you? […] Then you got something to say to me." (3.8.11)

    Tom Weylin is willing to give Rufus what he wants for one simple little thing in return. He wants Rufus to apologize and to acknowledge Tom's total authority over him as his father. That's quite the tradeoff.

    "Didn't I tell you I didn't want you reading!" (3.8.87)

    Tom Weylin is pretty cheesed off when he catches Dana reading after he specifically told her not to. He's so mad in fact that he gives Dana a brutal whipping. Tom thinks he is the master of his house and he'll do whatever it takes to show everyone that he's in control.

    I thought Weylin meant to kill me. I thought I would die on the ground there with a mouth full of dirt and blood and a white man cursing and lecturing as he beat me. (3.8.93)

    Dana can't believe that she's going to die from being whipped by a white slave master. This is the essence of how awful power can be. It can destroy not only human life, but whatever deeper meaning this life is supposed to have. After all, what's the point of anything if a powerful person can just kill another person whenever they want?

    I said we were dangerous to each other. That's more a reminder than a threat. (4.4.93)

    Dana doesn't want to threaten Rufus. But there are times when he seems to forget that she has the power to let him die and she needs to remind him of this.

    I had thought that eventually, he would just rape her again. (4.11.25)

    Dana is disgusted by how easy it is for Rufus to exploit the power he holds over Alice. Alice is supposed to be a free woman, but Rufus arranges it so that she becomes his slave and he forces her to have sex with him. For the most part, power is a really ugly thing in this book.

    Edwards backed off. Nigel was big and strong and not one to make idle threats. (4.16.6)

    The overseer named Edwards likes to use his whip to show everyone how in charge he is. But, in some situations, a big slave like Nigel will stare him down until he retreats. Rather than contemplating his white privilege, Edwards goes off and picks on people who can't fight back.

    I began to realize that I should have resisted, should have refused to let Fowler bring me out here where only other slaves could see what happened to me. (5.5.20)

    Dana often curses herself for not showing more resistance to the white slaver-masters in this book. But the fact remains that she's scared enough of physical pain to avoid putting up much of a fight.

    "Much better than you used to be. Someone must have taught you to behave." (5.7.15)

    Margaret Weylin barely recognizes Dana after not seeing her for many years. This is because, as much as Dana would hate to admit it, she has become a very obedient slave because she's afraid of being punished by people in power.

    Sent me to the field, had me beaten, made me spend nearly eight months sleeping on the floor of his mother's room, sold people… He's done plenty, but the worst of it was to other people. (6.2.40)

    Dana admits that Rufus has done a lot of bad stuff. He has a lot of power over many human lives, and like most people with this power he tends to abuse it whenever he feels in the mood.

    I pulled the knife free of him somehow, raised it, and brought it down again into his back. (6.4.140)

    Dana finally makes good on the power she holds over Rufus when she murders him with a knife. She's been threatening to use her power over him this entire book, but Rufus has kept pushing the envelope by abusing his own power. In the end, Dana decides that there's nothing left to do but take Rufus out of the equation. He's had plenty of opportunities to be a better person, but he hasn't taken them.