Student Research Projects

"If you told me a Story like This, I Probably Wouldn't believe it either": The Dismissal of Slavery in Octavia Butler's Kindred

Student Shauntell Whitehurst-Joyner, '17
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department English
Course ENG 489: Senior Thesis


Throughout her novel, Kindred, Octavia Butler uses the phenomenon of time travel to show the still existing barriers between both blacks and whites in America. This barrier is formed by white guilt, which makes the topic of slavery one that is not easily discussed amongst the two different races. Due to the existence of white guilt, slavery has become a subject that is not easily addressed in America, which has led to the dismissal of the topic, making it hard for people of both races to truly cope with the lasting effects of the past. Within her novel, Octavia Butler shows her reader how when white guilt ceases to exist, the turmoils of slavery are more easily addressed and related back to reality. She does this by having her main character, Dana, whom is a black woman, continuously travel back and forth between her own present day and the time before slavery was abolished. In the present day Dana must interact with her husband, Kevin, who is a white man, suffering from white guilt, while in the past she interacts with Rufus, a slave owner and distant relative of hers. In the past white guilt does not exist due to the fact that it was something that came into existence as a result of the abolition of slavery. Due to this fact, Dana is able to have more open and effective conversations with Rufus than with her own husband, Kevin, because the barrier of white guilt is not there. By doing this, Butler is able to put emphasis on the existence of white guilt and effectively communicates that slavery is an important part of American history and culture that must be addressed.