Interracial relationships were generally looked down upon up until the late 1900s when laws that banned interracial marriage were repealed. Loving v. Virginia was an important court case involving a white man and a mixed woman who fought against the laws in Virginia that criminalized interracial relationships. The court’s decision on this case ended up being crucial to altering the civil rights era and segregation. Through Kindred, Octavia E. Butler illustrates and compares the different dynamics of each interracial relationship in a time of slavery and in a time where such relations are more socially acceptable.
In Kindred, the main character, Dana, is brought back to the early 1800s, which also happens to be a time when slavery still existed. As a young black woman, she is
Interracial marriage in the United States
subjected to the prejudices of white people. In order to save the future generations of her family, she is sent back multiple times to save the life of one of her ancestors. She is put into slavery by her ancestor, Rufus Weylin, and although she is “owned” by Rufus and although he abuses her, she still comes to care for him. Dana spends months in the time period of the early 1800s while only hours pass in her present time. She builds friendships with the people in the past and melts into the role of a slave as if she was one all along. In one of her travels, she takes her husband, Kevin Franklin, with her. During this time in the past with Kevin, she recognizes the different struggles between the two time periods of being in love with a white male when she is black.
Kevin and Dana marry each other despite the protests from their family. Even in later years, when interracial marriages were more widely accepted, people still discriminated against black people. Even Dana’s aunt and uncle were opposed to her marrying a white man. They originally met through work and were teased by their boss for being in a relationship together. As a “chocolate and vanilla” (Butler 56) couple, even in the late 1900s, they were still victimized on multiple occasions for being together. When Dana goes back in time with Kevin, the differences in their race are even more distinct. They go to extreme lengths such as pretending like Dana is Kevin’s slave in order to protect Dana from other white slave owners. This can be viewed as similar and different to their present time of 1976. Similar in that, even though the discrimination was more severe during the 1800s, it was still occurring in the later 1900s when interracial marriages were legalized. Although, the situations are different because of the roles Dana and Kevin are forced to play, during their time in the past. In their present time they can express their love freely and publicly; when they have to act as slave and owner, they are forced to hide their love for each other due to the circumstances. In the novel, Kevin and Dana represent a more present-day relationship, where interracial marriage is not as deprecated. Butler contrasts their relationship with Rufus and Alice, another pair of characters who existed during the 1800s, who are also used to illustrate an interracial relationship in the book.
Rufus Weylin grew up being called “master” and Alice, even though she grew up free, was a black woman and still subjected to the cruelty of white people. Rufus was kind to Alice throughout their childhood but as they grew up, Rufus began to practice the cruel ways of his father. Rufus loves Alice but Alice falls in love with a black man, who happens to be a slave. Jealousy and anger consumes him and he ends up forcing himself on Alice and then later, he enslaves her. Alice feels a continued hatred towards Rufus and is always reluctant to see him.
Each of these relationships are constantly changing as the story progresses. Butler contrasts Dana and Kevin’s relationship with Rufus and Alice’s by showing what each relationship was like during different time periods. Dana and Kevin face racial oppression during their present time but is still able to have a successful marriage that is built on love for each other. On the opposite spectrum, Alice and Rufus’ “love” is one sided and forced. In the 1800s “there was no shame in raping a black woman, but there could be shame in loving one” (Butler 124). Octavia E. Butler emphasizes the difference between each interracial relationships in the present and the past yet she even uses Dana and Kevin’s relationship and puts their marriage into perspective during 1976 and the early 1800s. When Butler brings Kevin and Dana into the 1800s, it greatly contrasts with their relationship in the late 1900s. This comparison is important because it recognizes the fact that an interracial relationship only works when the surrounding environment has pushed aside the difference in race.
Octavia E. Butler does an excellent job in expressing the differences between each interracial couple based on the time period and situation that each character is put into. She uses many examples to show this and creates a different dynamic in each couple that showcases the conflicts or compatibility within the relationship. This theme of interracial relationships can apply to everyday life in that we build relationships with many people throughout life and it does not matter what race they are. It is socially acceptable to have a friendship or be intimate with someone of another race and is not questioned or criticized in this day and age.
Octavia E. Butler demonstrates the variation in interracial couples in different time periods through multiple characters. She uses Kevin and Dana’s relationship and almost contrasts it to Rufus and Alice’s relationship with each other; at the same time she compares the dynamics of each couple according to which time they are living in. Butler develops and changes these relationships as the story progresses and through this novel she emphasizes the prejudices against interracial couples that exist in the present time and in the past.
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