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Desmond Tutu once said “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you as you are to them. Such is the case in the graphic novel entitled Kindred by Octavia Butler, which tells the story of the main character, Dana, time-traveling from her home in Los Angeles in the 1970s to a 1800s pre-Civil War plantation in Maryland. Kinship is one of the focal elements seen throughout the course of the novel, as its purpose is to both illustrate and serve as the connection for the relationships between characters, particularly Dana and Rufus’ relationship.
Overall, the evolution of the kinship shared between Dana and Rufus develops the overlying paradox of Dana, an African American, traveling back in time to ensure her survival through the protection of Rufus, her white ancestor, in the time of slavery.
The kinship between Dana and Rufus is first established when Dana discovers that Rufus is her great-grandfather after time-traveling for the second time.
When coming to terms with this new revelation, Dana questions if they are indeed related since “no one in her family mentioned Rufus was white” (34), and then realizes that she has been time traveling to save Rufus from danger, thereby “ensuring her family’s survival and her own birth” (34). In the second panel of the scene,
Dana’s family tree is shown to not only confirm their kinship, but to also highlight the difference in time periods, as the family tree is shown to be in the present due to its bland color and the rest of the scene is shown to be in the past due to its acute detail and sharper colors.
Likewise, this panel also appears as the biggest in size on this page to emphasize how important this newfound connection between Dana and Rufus is. Dana’s clothing and Rufus’ clothing also are particularly noteworthy, as it helps to distinguish between the two time periods from which both characters come from.
Moving on, Dana’s facial expressions help convey a worried mood because she realizes that if she can’t protect Rufus from harm’s way, then she will cease to exist in the present, given that Rufus must survive for her to eventually be born. Additionally, the alternation of dialogue between both Rufus and Dana and Dana’s thoughts as seen in the changes of the style of lettering support this because it exclusively allows us to capture the genuine emotions going through her head in those exact moments. Accordingly, the artistic style in the panels for this scene are also drawn to be more realistic to accurately portray Dana’s worry.
Building off this, the blood kinship that they share is what drives Dana to keep Rufus from dying, which both launches this paradox as seen throughout the novel and causes Dana to genuinely care for Rufus as the story progresses. She goes on to have a parent-child relationship with him, by trying to teach him not to conform to the cultural beliefs of that period. It lays the foundation not only for their bond but for the rest of the events that occur in the novel as well. Furthermore, the element of irony is also present because Dana is black, and Rufus is white, obviously meaning that Rufus would go on to have a sexual relationship with one of his slaves in the future.
Multiracial relationships were non-existent in the 1800s and very frowned upon in the 1970s, which is why Dana acted surprised at first. In addition, their features are also very detailed in the artwork to contrast their racial differences. Hence, Dana also appears to be wearing a very dark colored shirt, while Rufus is wearing white pajamas, which serves as symbolism for the difference in their races. This was done to add tension to their kinship, as Rufus is unaware of their blood connection at the time and he treats Dana as if she were a slave, given her skin color. It causes Dana to have to look past Rufus’ racist upbringing and truly dig down deep to sincerely care about him, adding another layer of complexity to their already unique relationship.
As we see further in the novel, it helps Dana to understand how slaves were treated during this period, allowing her to experience indirect kinship with the Weylins’ slaves in later parts of the novel and embrace her African American lineage. To sum it up, Butler uses a lot of contrasts to set the foundation for Dana and Rufus’ kinship by explaining that even though they are different in racial and cultural aspects, their blood relationship will always serve as a connection between the two, as Rufus exists to ensure Dana’s existence and Dana exists to ensure both their existences. However, relationships this unique are bound to deteriorate at some point, something we see happen later in the novel.
Dana and Rufus’ kinship starts to dwindle we progress throughout the story, and it hits its low point when Rufus tries to exert absolute control over Dana. When he sells a slave out of jealousy for simply having a conversation with Dana, it shows that Rufus wishes to enforce his growing love for Dana on her and their relationship shifts from one belonging of a parent and child as mentioned before to one formed over Rufus’ lust for power and dominance. Alice, Rufus’ mistress and the mother to his child Hagar, confirms his love for Dana when she notes that he likes “her in bed, Dana out of bed, and people say that they look alike…guess that means they’re two halves of the same woman, in his crazy head” (206).
When Dana confronts Rufus in the next scene on page 208, he hits her across the face when she refuses to go back inside the Weylin home, which is illustrated with lines portraying Rufus’ arm motion and with yellow streaks to signify the impact of his hand hitting her face. Consequently, this artwork helps to realistically show how forceful and violent Rufus was when he hit Dana, and I think it also metaphorically shows the turning point in their relationship, as Dana notes that “He’d never hit her before” (208), and it was “so surprising, she stumbled and fell” (208). In the next panel, Rufus yells at Dana and the background is completely shaded red, which represents his anger towards Dana. Also, Rufus’ speech balloon in this panel is jagged instead of round, implying that he is screaming at her instead of normally speaking to her. Similarly, black lines surround his head, emphasizing how loud he was screaming at her to go back to the house.
These elements exemplify Rufus’ profuse anger shown towards Dana in this panel as it conveys the decline of their kinship and purely demonstrates that he believes himself to have total control over her as if she were his slave. Immediately afterward, Dana is seen wiping her mouth with a very annoyed expression on her face, with her features being drawn in a more realistic style than in previous panels to accurately show that she believed that Rufus had crossed the line and was now willing to do whatever it took to escape from him. Thus, Dana later slits her wrists to return home, and that image alone is gruesome enough as it conveys a mood of desperation and misery for Dana.
The knife that Dana uses also is symbolic in that it represents the severing of her and Rufus’ kinship, as a knife’s main use is to obviously cut and slice other objects. All in all, the paradox is further developed because its forced to change directions due to their now broken kinship. Dana knows that since her great-grandmother Hagar has been born, she has ensured her survival and is no longer obligated to protect Rufus. With Rufus having grown up to be a cruel man with no regard for his slaves or his own family as evidenced in this interaction, she doesn’t have to keep him alive the next time she is teleported back in time. Even though their blood kinship still ties them together as they will meet again at the end of the novel, Dana has all of the control now instead of Rufus in that regard to their relationship, and as we’ll come to find out, she isn’t afraid to act upon it during the conclusion of the novel.
Faced with no other alternatives to ensure her safety, Dana takes it upon herself to kill Rufus, thereby terminating their kinship and causing the paradox to reach its culmination. After Dana takes shelter in the attic, Rufus finds her and tries to rape her, as seen when he implies to her that he wants her to take Alice’s place as the woman he loves. Of course, Dana wants no part of this, as she tells Rufus that she’s done protecting him and “keeping him alive has been up to her for too long” (231).
Right off the bat, the backgrounds of each panel are darkly colored and shaded, illustrated to portray the darkness of the attic while also serving as a warning that something bad is about to happen. In addition, it also helps establish a suspenseful mood, as readers will want to know what happens next as Dana tries to hide from Rufus. When Rufus jumps on Dana, this panel is the biggest on the page, which is done on purpose to highlight that Rufus was going to rape her, serving as the climax of the events that took place beforehand.
White motion lines are drawn to demonstrate Rufus jumping on Dana, and white jagged lines are also present above Dana’s hand to show her head hitting the floor from the impact of Rufus jumping on her. Throughout this scene, the art is drawn to take on a more cartoon-like appearance, as I think this was done to represent the universality of rape and the huge problem it is in the real world. It’s something that horrifyingly is all too common, and people back in the 1800s were no exception to it either sadly. Additionally, it’s also done to show how Rufus believes that he still has power over Dana, even though he doesn’t yet realize that that’s not the case anymore. In my opinion, I believe that it also serves as a microcosm of the relationship between white people and black people in the 1800s, as white people believed that they had total control over black people through their enslavement. On page 232, Dana forces Rufus off her and pulls out a knife to defend herself.
Rufus grabs her arm, as illustrated by the yellow-shaded jagged shape on Dana’s arm to represent the force from him grabbing her arm. White lines again are also shown to depict Dana trying to free herself from Rufus’ clutches. The next two panels are particularly interesting, as one displays one half of Dana’s face as she cries, and the other one exhibits one half of Rufus’ face displaying a smirk, as to form one face out of both the halves of their faces. It’s a creative way of acknowledging one last time Dana and Rufus belong to the same family and that they share that blood connection that will always bind them together, while also foreshadowing that Dana will have to kill him.
Deciding to finally act, Dana stabs Rufus on page 233, with motion lines depicting her swinging the knife at him and darkly colored blood splattering out of Rufus’ chest. Rufus’ face in the next panel is colored a vibrant yellow and his eyes are red, to indicate that he is dying and is shocked to discover that Dana is doing this to him. This embodies the very moment of the shift in the balance of power in the relationship, as Dana is forced to put their kinship aside to keep herself safe.
The paradox develops by reaching its end since Dana is now free from her time traveling abilities because of Rufus’ death. Their lack of kinship at this juncture of the novel proves the evolution of their relationship as to how it relates to developing the paradox, as being blood relatives didn’t stop Dana from doing what was necessary to keep herself from becoming Rufus’ slave even after the close bond that they had shared for most of the novel. In the end, Dana had to kill her own ancestor, who she exists to protect as a means of guaranteeing her own existence in the present, to save her life in that one moment. I find that ironic and representative of how Dana and Rufus’ kinship changed, given that it proves that just because you are related to someone doesn’t mean that they should be able to hold any power over you and allow you to conform to their standards and beliefs.
In conclusion, the progression of the kinship between Dana and Rufus helps to develop the superimposing paradox of Dana, a black woman, going back in time to safeguard her existence by caring for Rufus, her white great-grandfather, during the time of slavery. As seen in the text, power and control will always find itself intertwined with the facets of race and gender, a problem that has existed for a very long time. The institution of slavery, as also illustrated in the novel, still has a significant impact on our society today, as some still share the controlling, racist viewpoints as those in the 1800s did two centuries ago.
These beliefs have no place in the world today and even though not everyone is directly blood-related, we all share a degree of kinship in the forms of being Americans, perhaps coming from the same hometowns, and sharing the same interests and hobbies just to name a few. The world would be a much better place if people could focus on instances where we are similar as a way of uniting instead of putting our greed and hatred for others who are different first. Although we still have a long way to go, it is important to learn from our mistakes in the past, such as slavery, to truly progress and reach our full potential as upstanding citizens and people of great character.
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