A Metaphorical View into Kindred
In Kindred by Octavia Butler, Dana is subject to many different wounds all over her body; the more involved Dana becomes in the story the more damaging the wounds are to her everyday function. These wounds, their severity, and their position represent certain emotional and mental scars in Dana made by her travels into the 1800s.The most severe of these wounds and the driver of the book, since it is the opening chapter and we are awaiting for this scene throughout the book, is the losing of her left arm. Losing such a vital part of ones body can be devastating and for some this can be an unsurpassable obstacle, but for Dana is a reminder of her travels, her new found knowledge, and her familys roots.
Danas arm being ripped off is the first thing that the reader sees in the novel, but we really dont know where, why, or how all of this happened. Obviously this is a very graphic and disturbing image and it is a good beginning to a wonderful novel such as this one but the reader needs to learn that this wasnt the first and only injury, but rather the last and most hurtful of many. After the scene in the hospital the reader is taken to the beginning, which is when she first travels back to the 1800s. The reason that she traveled back was because Rufus, her ancestor, was drowning so she jumped in, brought him to land, and revived him, as she was doing this Margret, Rufuss mother, was hitting her back. When she went back to the 1900s she noticed that Margret had left bruises on her back and shoulders. She described coming back from the past and being hit for saving a childs life as being like a victim of a robbery or rape or somethinga victim who survives, but who doesnt feel safe any more (Butler 17). From this point on in the novel Dana is always unsure of her safety and of her future even when she is in her home. Her back being hurt symbolizes her backbone or home plate being damaged from this time travel, but since they were only bruises she will fully recover from this experience. Danas second injury came in the form of minor cuts and bruises all over her body made by a patroller who would have raped her, which is , for Dana, the most damaging and feared injury, when she returns to the 1900s she is in her bed with Kevin by her side. God, I hurt, and Im so tired. But it doesnt matter. Im home (Butler 44). This still indicates that Dana can still work through her suffering and the idea that her most feared almost became a reality. The fact that the wounds this time were all over her body represent how much of her these changes are actually affecting her.
Danas next injury is significantly more severe. Tom whipped her for stealing books from him and reading them; this was a large insult to him because he at times felt that she was smarter than him. It was important for Dana to know what a whipping was like in order for her transformation from a liberal 20th century black woman to a mere 19th century slave. Butler describes Danas whipping as surprising and writes that it came- like a hot iron across my back, burning into me through my light shirt, searing my skin (Butler 107). The pain was so intense that Dana states she would rather die than feel the pain she was going through, but she still manages to survive the blows. These were the first significant physical scars that will heal but never disappear from Danas body. Since they were on her back they symbolized her foundation being slowly destroyed the more times she spends in the 1800s. These wounds were deeper than previous ones and made scars that symbolized that she wound not easily forget this occurrence and hopefully they will work as a lesson for her as she begins to spend more time in a time period that is not hers to live in. Danas following wound is unique because of the person that caused it; this person was oddly Dana herself. She cut her wrists, a very risky move since she could have died or had permanent muscle damage. This action was a result from the changes that Rufus had made, both in personality and around the plantation, Danas final push that made her jump over the edge was Rufus slapping her. Dana feels that it was a mistake on his part and that It was the breaking of an unspoken agreement (Butler 239). Self inflicted wounds for Dana at the beginning of the novel might have been an improbability but as the story progresses it become an almost certainty, this is one reason why this wound was so significant for Dana, the only thing the reader does not know is when she will make the leap. This wound is larger to Dana mentally than physically because it first shows how far she was able to go in order to stop the pain and to end all her problems. Second, because the wounds wont hurt her after they heal and they are big enough to be intrusive with her day to day life, yet they are significantly out in the open to serve as reminders of her changes. The scars that will come from the slits will surely remind Dana of how horrible the past can be and how it far it can push a person no matter how strong their character is. Furthermore, it shows Dana that no matter how bad your past can be it was necessary for someone to be the way they are or in her case the reason that she exists.
Finally, we are brought back to that scene in the hospital that the novel opened with, the reader sees that when Dana is thrown back into the 1900s after killing the very person she was sent to protect, she appears with her arm inside, and almost part of, a wall. When Dana attempts to remove her hand, excruciating pain takes over her body. This leads her into the hospital where she realizes that she has lost her left arm forever. It seems that Butler could not have let Dana return to her life completely or let her go back as if nothing in her had changed. Danas arm being lost is simply a physical expression of what had happed to her mentally. This is by far the most symbolic of her injuries because it is the one that hurts her physically yet she is able to recover successfully and then almost immediately travel to the plantation to see the remains and try to figure what had happened. Dana was also a writer and the losing of an arm might prevent her to successfully continue her selected path, but she seems to manage when she travels to the plantation. This reaction might have been a result of her injuries in the way that they all taught her something about herself, those around her, and they help as reminders. Nevertheless, the wounds that affected her through out the novel were all significant in their own unique way, whether they showed metal or physical changes, served as reminders, or immersed her into the ways of the 1800s.