Kevin and Dana: A Love that Stands the Test of Time
Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred explores the ante-bellum southern United States through the eyes of a hopeful, young twentieth century, twenty-six year old, black woman by the name of Edana or Dana. Edana’s husband, a white man by the name of Kevin, also briefly accompanies her on a journey back in time which involves helping Edana’s white relative Rufus. In the midst of opposing, dichotomous, relationships such as, slave and master, black and white, there is a merge, a union known as Dana and Kevin’s marriage. Butler’s ingenious approach of concealing the couple’s individual racial identities allowed her audience to truly understand the authentic nature of their marriage and emphasized the humanity in Dana and Kevin’s relationship while constructing the groundwork that would eventually be tested in the twentieth century as well as the seventeenth century .
The audience begins to comprehend the depth of the couple’s relationship almost instantaneously from the introduction or “Prologue”. Kindred begins in a backdrop of confusion and pain. The audience understands that Dana has somehow been hurt but the reasoning is unclear. Throughout the “Prologue”, Edana incessantly inquires about the whereabouts of her husband Kevin. When she is questioned by the police about Kevin’s involvement in her injury, apparently drugged and groggy she manages to utter, “ Not Kevin. Is he here? Can I see him?”(Butler, 9). When the police asked exactly how she managed to hurt herself she responded by saying it was, “An accident...My fault, not Kevin’s. Please let me see him” (Butler, 9).This is a prime example of Dana’s dedication to Kevin and sets the tone between them for the duration of the novel. At this point, it isn’t clear who possesses a particular ethnic identity. Due to curiosity, all the audience wants to know is how a catastrophic situation such as the one Dana endured could possibly happen.
In the first chapter, “The River” Butler made it a point to acclimatize the reader to the routines present in Kevin and Dana’s marital life. “ On the day before, we had moved from our apartment in Los Angeles to a house of our own a few miles away in Altadena. The moving was celebration enough for me. We were still unpacking.” (Butler,12). Life was pretty simple and uncomplicated for the young couple. There isn’t anything unique or fascinating about their move, or interaction between one another. The audience can infer from Butler’s description of Kevin and Dana that they are a relatively normal, healthy couple. Butler sheds more light on Dana and Kevin’s humble beginnings during the chapter known as “The Fall”. The most information is acquired from this particular chapter of the couple’s nascent relationship. Dana and Kevin initially meet through a temporary agency for which they were both working for at the time. Unbeknownst to the tandem, two wandering, lonely souls were to find each other and unexpectedly spark a flame that would grow into a steady relationship. “ I think Kevin was as lonely and out of place as I was when I met him....” (Butler, 52). The two connect through their love of writing. Kevin was en route to finally breaking into the publication business with his new, completed novel and Dana diligently working on a novel of her own.
As Kevin and Dana grow closer and spend more time together in the twentieth century, Butler finally discloses Dana and Kevin’s ethnicity. It is a facile effort to observe the racial tension the couple faced during this time. In 1976, racial tension is still running high. It is evidenced by their alcoholic supervisor Buz, who takes advantage of every opportunity to insult and discourage their relationship. “Hey, you two gonna get together and write some books?...You gonna write some poor-nography together !” (Butler, 54). “Buz, coming back from the coffee machine, muttered, “ Chocolate and Vanilla porn!”(Butler, 56). Unfortunately, Buz wasn’t the only person who did not commend their relationship. According to Edana, one woman from the agency, “told me with typical slave- market candor that he and I were “the weirdest looking couple” she had ever seen” (Butler, 56). Dana did retaliate defending her relationship by stating, “ I told her, not too gently, that she hadn’t seen much, and that it was none of her business anyway” (Butler, 56). Even their own families engaged in discouraging commentary regarding their plans for marriage. Naturally, Kevin’s initial excitement had led him to share the exciting news with his sister, although Dana tried her best to brace him for the worst reaction, he clearly wasn’t expecting the response he received. “I thought I knew her...I mean I did know her. But I guess we’ve lost touch more than I thought” (Butler, 110). Predictably, Edana’s relatives reactions were similar in nature to Kevin’s sister. Edana’s aunt expressed slightly more approval than her husband who Edana says, “it’s as though I’ve rejected him” (Butler,111). In spite of society’s disapproval, the couple remained devoted to one another. Dana looked at Kevin and announced, “ I’m marrying you” (Butler, 111). It is in these trials of 1976, Butler reveals how sound their love was, that in spite of everyone’s opinions they never lost sight of how they felt about one another or let their commitment deviate from the other.
Therefore, it was not surprising that when the couple travels back in time they maintain not only their identities as twentieth century visitors but their marital identity as well. According to Dana, “Most important to me, though, they [her work] gave me a chance to preserve a little of 1976 amid the slaves and slaveholders” (Butler, 92). The racism and prejudice that couple endure in the 17th century is stark in comparison to the 1970’s. In the chapter entitled, “The Fall” Kevin explains to a young 17th century Rufus that Dana is his wife, when Rufus asks, “Does Dana belong to you?” (Butler, 60). “In a way, said Kevin. “She’s my wife” (Butler, 60). In one instance, Dana was caught by Margaret Weylin, Rufus‘ mother and woman of the house, in Kevin’s room. Though Dana was “Kevin’s slave”, Dana was punished for attending to Kevin’s needs and following directions. “Margaret slapped me across the face...You filthy black whore! This is a Christian house” (Butler, 93). Another incidence involved a conversation between Tom Weylin, Rufus’ father and Kevin, where Kevin explained to Dana that “Weylin was warning me that it was dangerous to keep a slave like you⎯educated, maybe kidnapped from a free state⎯as far north...He said I ought to sell you...before you ran away and I lost my investment” (Butler, 80). Dana and Kevin make some cultural adjustments due to the era and engage in minor role playing but the couple hardly digests their roles. Dana explains “And I began to realize why Kevin and I had fit so easily into the time. We weren’t really in. We were observers watching a show...We never really got into our roles. We never forgot that we were acting” (Butler, 98). The racism they faced together in 1976 was significantly mild compared to what they received in the early 17th century due to the customs and the institution of slavery, however there are some major parallels between the two eras.
Despite the major obstacles in both eras, the couple’s dedication and commitment to each other helped them to overcome the tribulations that they endured together in both eras. Their experiences together literally cemented their bond and brought them closer to each other. At one point, the couple lost touch for eight days in 1976, which translated into five years in the 1800‘s. They were separated with little hope of seeing each other but Dana never lost hope, “I began to believe I would see him again” (Butler, 140). Amid the racism and prejudice they were able to rely on their love for each other to carry them through the darkest and most despondent hours.
Butler, Octavia E. Kindred. Boston, MA: Beacon, 2009. Print.
Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on April 12, 2013:
I remember hearing a report about this novel on National Public Radio years ago. I never followed through to read it, but your hub has reminded me, and now perhaps I will. Thanks!