You don’t appreciate it until you lose it…right? This quote targets the “seemingly” miniscule and insignificant aspect of our lives, such as the simple luxuries like cars and air conditioning. But what if it was an arm? In Kindred, Dana unfortunately had to learn the importance of an arm the hard way: without it. Octavia E. Butler uses Dana’s left arm as a symbol of the link between the two separate lives that she has, the ignorant life of the present and the deadly realistic life of the past. “I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm” (Butler 9). These are the first two sentences of this book.
As this book progresses, the story of Dana unravels to the reader. Not until the very end does the reader understand the significance of the arm mentioned on the first page. On the last page of this book, the reader finds out what really happened to her arm. “Something hard and stronger than Rufus’s hand clamped down on [her] arm, squeezing it, stiffening it, pressing into it-painlessly, at first-melting into it, meshing with it as though somehow [her] arm were being absorbed into something. Something cold and nonliving. Something… paint, plaster, wood-a wall.
The wall of [her] living room” (Butler 260-261). Rufus, in a way, has become the wall. A dead, meaningless object. This symbolizes the end of her life in the past. She had to sacrifice her arm and the lives of Nigel, Carrie, and others living on the farm to be able to return without worrying about going back. Her arm is the link between the past life and her present life, a past life of hardships and discrimination, and a present life where the effects exist. She ended her guardian-like character in Rufus’s life to go and live her own, losing her arm in the process.
In today’s society, people are satisfied with the basic facts. They don’t care to delve deeper into subjects and ask why. But still, the effects of the past are still evident in normal every day life. Kevin was a white man. Dana was a black woman. This alone already states the obvious conflicts that will arise between them just because of their ethnicities. When Kevin asked her to marry him, she responded, “You, uh…don’t have any relatives or anything who’ll give you a hard time about me, do you? ” (Butler 109). People these days still “judge a book by its cover. In spite of how much people try to look the other way, prejudice is always there. Kevin said “the only close relative [he’s] got left is [his] sister…[who] has been trying to marry [him] off and get [him] ‘settled down’ for years” would love her, no doubt to it. Dana warned him that “she might surprise [him],” and of course, she did (Butler 110). This sister that “[he] thought [he] knew…didn’t want to meet [her], wouldn’t have [her] in her house-or [him] either if [he] married [her]” (Butler 110). His sister is a typical white woman of the seventies.
She married her husband, who “would have made a good Nazi,” out of “desperation” (Butler 110). She grew from a “white and fat and homely” girl into one who “lives in a big house in La Canada and quotes cliched bigotry” (Butler 110-111). Canada was a place where discrimination was at home. Dana had a story about a visit her mother had when she went there: “My mother’s car broke down in La Canada once. Three people called the police on her while she was waiting for my uncle to come and get her. Suspicious character. Five-three, she was. About a hundred pounds.
Real dangerous” (Butler 111). This shows the “inherent” nature in human beings: untrusting, suspicious, and pessimistic. They assume the worst in everything and everyone. They stereotype groups of people together with common characteristics. But these do not only form by the white people, the blacks fuel it even more. When Kevin asks Dana how her aunt and uncle responded to the idea that they were going to get married, she says, “I think my aunt accepts the idea of my marrying you because any children we have will be light. Lighter than I am, anyway.
She always said I was a little too ‘highly visible’” (Butler 111). Her aunt “doesn’t care much for white people, but she prefers light-skinned blacks” (Butler 111). Her uncle on the other hand “wants [her] to marry someone like him-someone who looks like him. A black man” (Butler 111). This racial wall has become something more than not being able to use the same restroom. It has encompassed every aspect of ordinary life. It left the stage that it is required that they be separate, and entered the comfort zone, where choices are made based on personal preferences, personal opinions.
Her aunt and uncle do not try to persuade her not to marry him because it’s wrong? but rather that they just don’t want her to. This once forced upon discrimination has now turned into a choice, but people seem to choose the wrong. For Dana and Kevin, a transition between this life and a life of adversity and slavery was tough. Dana realized that “Rufus’s time demanded things of [her] that had never been demanded before…that was the stark, powerful reality that the gentle conveniences and luxuries of this house, of now” (Butler 191).
After years in the past, Kevin could not remember much of his old life. Dana “found him in the living room trying knobs on the television set. It was new to [them], that television, like the house. The on/off switch was under the screen out of sight, and Kevin clearly didn’t remember” (Butler 191). He was like a baby again, with a clean slate ready to relearn everything, except this slate contained so much more knowledge about the past, even some that he never would have wanted to know. He “saw a woman die in child birth once” (Butler 191).
He knew that his life would never be able to be the same again. He knew that it would take a long time to readjust. He couldn’t even remember what it felt like when a jet passes by. This caused a lot of tension between Kevin and Dana. She always felt so “hopeless,” not knowing what to say or what to do for Kevin. Kevin lived for five years alone in the past, helping slaves escape to freedom, while Dana was stuck at Rufus’s house. Dana experienced both physical and emotional pain that she could never have imagined existed.
How could one just transition back and forth from a life of tranquility to a life of hardship? In Kindred, the representation of Dana’s arm is not only a bridge between the first and last page, but a connection between her two lives. No matter how hard Dana and Kevin try to forget the past, it will always be there. Dana’s missing limb on the left side of her body will be a constant reminder of what they saw and felt. Butler, Octavia E.. Kindred. Boston: Beacon Press, 1988.