The Concept of Home in “Kindred” by Octavia E. Butler
A home is one of the places in which an individual feels the most safe and enjoys spending a lot of their time. In Octavia E. Butler’s novel, Kindred, the concept of home is complicated by the clashing emotions of the characters Dana and Kevin. This displays how the idea of home can be affected by having stronger experiences somewhere else. Dana and Kevin, after being teleported from one time period to another, are forced to rethink their beliefs of what their home is to them. Their experience in the 19th century made Dana and Kevin start to feel more accustomed to it and make them begin to feel like it is their home.
In the beginning of the novel, Dana feels like the new apartment she is sharing with Kevin in 1976 is her home. She says, after her second sojourn to Rufus, “God, I hurt, and I’m so tired. But it doesn’t matter. I’m home”. Dana has had few encounters in the 19th century as she hasn’t been there for very long, yet the experiences she does have are mostly negative.
She also hasn’t really had any connections with the people there besides realizing that a few of them were her ancestors, so she understandably views her 1976 apartment as her home. It’s the time that she grew up in, and it’s where Kevin and the things she likes/is most familiar with are, while 19th century Maryland is a time and place she’s been in for less than a day.
As Dana starts making more trips back to the antebellum South, she has more experiences there and makes more connections with the people there. She becomes more used to everything there and how it works. When she thinks about it after a couple more visits and after getting Kevin back, she thinks that Rufus’s time was a “sharper, stronger reality”, and that “the work was harder, the smells and tastes were stronger, the danger was greater, the pain was worse”. Dana has done and experienced so much there that it’s become a place she’s familiar enough with to think of as home. She remembers that “she could recall feeling relief at seeing the house, feeling that she had come home. And having to stop and correct herself, remind herself that she was in an alien, dangerous place”. These thoughts show Dana’s conflicting emotions regarding the plantation and what it was to her. Even though it was a place in which she had felt a lot of pain, she had also had good experiences there and made strong emotional connections with some of the people there. With this, Butler is trying to make the point that home might sometimes have painful or dangerous things along with the good things, but it will still be home if that’s what one feels about it.
In Kindred, Butler complicates the concept of home by showing that home isn’t always the place where one feels the safest, or the one where one always wants to be. After the epilogue in the Reader’s Guide, Robert Crossley argues that Butler, with Kindred, offers a challenge to the expression “Home is where the heart is”, along with other expressions, which essentially means that home is where someone always longs to be. He writes that “By the time Dana’s time traveling finally stops and she is restored to her Los Angeles home in 1976, the meaning of a homecoming has become impossibly complicated. Her first act, once her arm is sufficiently healed, is to fly to present-day Maryland; both her California house and the Weylin plantation have become inescapably ‘home’ to her”. Dana feels like there are two places that are her home, but a person can’t long to be in two places at the same time, so the expression “Home is where the heart is” was challenged. Butler did this using Dana as an example and uses this to make the point that home isn’t necessarily only one place. Kevin’s conflicting emotions regarding his and Dana’s 1976 house and the Weylin plantation were also used by Butler to complicate the concept of “home”. At first, he, like Dana, thought of their house in 1976 as their home. However, when he went to the antebellum South with Dana, he was left there for five years when Dana was transported back to the 20th century, having to live in the 19th century by himself until Dana came back. He said that he “‘kept going farther and farther up the east coast’”, but that the only time he felt at home was when he “went back to Maryland … when he visited the Weylins to see whether Dana was there”, and when he was back in the 20th century, he also said “If I’m not home yet, maybe I don’t have a home”. These things he says show that even though he doesn’t like the Weylin plantation, he still somehow thinks of it as home, because he has had experiences there with Dana that affected him a lot, and since he loves Dana, he’ll think of a place as his home when she is/was there with him. This is also a point that Butler is trying to make: home is a place in which someone has shared many experiences (sometimes good, but other times not as good) with someone who he/she has a strong emotional connection with.
Butler uses the characters Dana and Kevin and their emotions regarding two different places they’ve stayed in to complicate the concept of “home,” which is usually thought of as a place that someone feels safe in and one that a person would almost always want to be. She does this by having them have stay and go through many experiences, both good and bad, in a foreign place and time. This makes them feel like the both of the times and places they stayed in are their homes, even though one of them has proved to be dangerous to them, especially to Dana. Butler has made all of her readers think about their ideas of home and what it is.
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