Inthe novel, Kindred, Butler shows that gender plays a role in powerdynamics in 19th and 20th centuries. This is showndifferently with white and black women of both periods. We, the readers, seehow white women like Margaret Weylin are seen as inferior to their husbands,who have a public presence in society and can do as they please. In addition,society expects them to be nothing more than wives and mothers. On the otherhand, black women are constantly victimized and treated inhumanly: 20thcentury women like Dana are still undermined by white men like Kevin, who isshown to reinforce patriarchal values through his treatment of her.
Moreover,it is repeatedly shown in the novel that 19th century black womenwere even more oppressed than their white counterparts as they are deprived oftheir basic roles as mothers and wives and even indiscriminately raped. Therights of black women during the 19th century were nonexistent as aresult of their skin color and gender. In the novel, when Dana gets back to thepresent after being away from Rufus for fifteen days, she recounts her horrificexperience to Kevin.
She states, “You mean you could forgive me for having beenraped?” (245). Dana is in a state of disbelief when Kevin insinuates that hecould forgive an intimate act with Rufus if she has been raped by him in thepast. This comment reveals Kevin’s naïve understanding of the concept of awoman’s right to control her own life. He doesn’t have the right to forgive heror not for being raped.
This is one of many incidents in which Kevin is shownto be complacent inDana’s situation and dismisses her experience. Dana had to sacrifice her careeras a writer for a position as a slave in the 1800’s when she is unwillinglytransported back and forth from the past and present. She is forced into aposition of domestic duties such as cooking, cleaning the house and teachingthe children whereas, her husband Kevin is allowed the freedom to go about theworld as an observer from a different time period. He has been accepted into a society dominatedby white men and as a result, has become racially insensitive towards Danaprovided by his position as a white man, free from oppression. In 19thcentury America, white men had to maintain a system in place that dehumanizesfemales and supports males.
It may even be possible that Kevin only feigns ignorance in order to avoidthe harsh reality of American history and avoid any sense ofguilt or responsibility he may feel for leaving Dana to carry the burden of herancestors alone.Although, we seehow 20th century men like Kevin still benefit from such apatriarchal and racially oppressive system, the novel largely focuses on thepower Rufus has over his female slaves. In the novel, Rufus constantly assertshis racial superiority and abuse over African Americans. For example, herepeatedly sexually abuses Alice without anyone saying anything or stopping him(with the exception of Dana and Isaac) as part of his power and privilege as awhite man. Though, his cruel and demeaning behavior could be a result of hisfamily and society reminding him that his gender and race gives him authority.In the novel, as Dana is forced to work for the Weylins, she begins to noticean unhealthy pattern between Rufus and his mother, Margaret. She states, “I remembered suddenlythe way he used to talk to his mother.
If he couldn’t get what he wanted fromher gently, he stopped being gentle. Why not? She always forgave him” (218).Dana begins to piece together that Margaret Weylin’s spoiling behavior towardRufus is what influences him to grow up a misogynist towards black women.Margaret instilled in Rufus a toxic mindset that makes him believe that womenwill forgive him immediately after being cruel to them. Furthermore, his motherMargaret, isn’t the only one who contributed to this view of the world thatRufus has. His father Tom Weylin reinforces Rufus’ views through his treatmentof his own slaves. In the novel, Dana points the detrimental effects Rufus’family treatment of black slaves had on him growing up. She states, “Hehad spent his life watching his father ignore, even sell the children he hadhad with black women” (231).
Rufus’ spent his life watching his father sell thechildren he fathered with his black female slaves off for profit as though theybut mere investments rather than human beings. Rufus’ environment and home lifefueled him to degrade black women into nothing more that toys for his amusement. It is shown constantly throughout the story howmanipulative and detrimental Rufus’ worldview has been on himself, Danaand Alice. He subjects both women (mainly Alice) to sexual abuse andpsychological manipulation to create what appears to be Stockholm syndrome inthese women in order to have them forgive in easily. Though, it only results inboth Rufus’s death by Dana and Alice’s suicide in the loss of her children. Inconclusion, Dana’s experience in Antebellum southern America reveal the racialand gender privilege enjoyed by white men such as Kevin and Rufus which hasshown to negatively impacts the lives of both men and the lives of theirAfrican American female counterparts.