The Many Forms of Home
In the novel Kindred, by Octavia Butler, Dana, a modern day black woman, time travels between her present day and the time of slavery in the South. Between her various travels, Dana and her husband Kevin experience a series of both cruel and eye opening events. Their experiences force them to question essentially everything that they knew about their lives and what they thought of as home. Through the use of two different time periods in history and the idea of time travel, Butler is able to draw upon the concept of home and what home means, and touches on the idea that for Dana, home could be more than just a physical place. Through insights into both Dana and Kevin’s minds, Butler suggests that home is the place where one is able to feel the most safe, secure, and comfortable; also emphasizing the idea that over time, any place can feel like home to an individual, even though hate and unfortunate circumstances may permeate it.
The idea of what a home means for each individual varies greatly. Most often, home for an individual is the place where he or she feels the safest, most comfortable, and where he or she feels as though they belong. In the beginning of the story, home for Dana is her house in California that she shares with her husband, Kevin. Dana mentions the time of her move to live in one house with Kevin, stating that, “on the day before, we had moved from our apartment in Los Angeles to a house of our own a few miles away in Altadena. The moving was celebration enough for me” (Butler, 12). Dana refers to the move to one individual house as a celebration: the use of the word celebration implying that having somewhere to call home is something worth getting excited about, something to truly celebrate. This was a major milestone for her, and an important time in her life. This raises the concept that besides being a physical
building, home consists of the people you love the most, which for Dana is Kevin. While home can be a physical place such as a home state, or a person’s house, home can also be a person. Throughout the story, Dana appears conflicted about where her home truly is, and if she even can consider her current house her home with all that has happened. The one consistency through the time traveling turmoil was Kevin. She is deeply connected to him as his wife, and Kevin is able to provide a constant sense of home for her. She mentions one instance where, “we sat there together on the floor, me wrapped in the towel and Kevin with his arm around me calming me just by being there” (Butler, 15). Kevin was not even speaking to Dana, yet his presence alone was enough to comfort her, and make her feel secure simply by being there. Comfort and security are two of the traditional characteristics of a home; two things that Kevin is also able to provide for Dana. Through this scene, Butler is further suggesting and emphasizing on the idea that a person is able to be a form of a home for someone, and presents the idea that home might not just be a physical place, but someone or something that evokes those same feelings of safety, comfort, and belonging.
Kevin as a home for Dana is seen again, when Dana is being badly beaten by Tom Weylin for essentially allowing Nigel to teach Carrie several spelling words. Dana’s fear for her life triggers her return home to present day, although this time Kevin is unable to reach her in time to travel back as well. Upon returning to California without Kevin, Dana walks around their home in a fog. She only does the bare minimum tasks that she needs to do in order to survive; things such as eat, drink, bathe and cleanse her wounds. She is simply going through the motions. This lack of involvement within her own home further emphasizes the idea that home is not truly home unless Kevin is with her. She is distraught, and claims that, “I didn’t want to be awake. I barely wanted to be alive” (Butler, 113). Her separation from Kevin completely inhibits her to feel at home, regardless of the fact that she truly is home in present day California. More than that, her separation from him completely removes her will to live, highlighting just how important Kevin is to her, and the level of comfort and security he is able to bring Dana while simultaneously functioning as a form of home for her. Kevin and Dana’s physical home in California however is not the only home present throughout the novel. As time progresses, Butler suggests that Dana has another home: the Weylin plantation in Maryland, in the eighteen hundreds. Upon her first trips to the plantation, Dana was scared and confused, and desperately wanted to go back to her real home in the present day. Dana comes to the conclusion and realization that her fear is what will propel her home, and in one instance she was, “desperately willing the dizziness to intensify, the transferal to come,” allowing her to return home (Butler, 35). The language, which Dana uses, emphasizes how she is so desperate to return home in her initial trips to the plantation that she is begging herself to reach the point of fear or danger where she will be able to travel back. None of the experiences she had there made her feel like she does at a typical home, and as a result, she wants to leave. However, as the novel progresses, we see that Dana becomes more and more accustomed to this different time period. Her feelings toward the plantation begin to shift, and she begins to see things in a different light.
Dana has a revelation about the plantation one day when she meets a young Alice during one of her time traveling episodes. She begins to realize that, “these people were my relatives, my ancestors. And this place could be my refuge,” in regards to the Weylin plantation (Butler, 37). Once she understands that the people in this new time period are distantly related to her, Dana’s feelings of the plantation begin to shift, even though she may not notice it. The idea of family ties very closely with home, as one’s family is usually who home is shared with. Now that Dana has discovered a deeper connection to the people on the plantation, she is able to slowly begin to see the plantation functioning as a form of home. Dana makes a statement about her definition of home, stating that, “Home. It didn’t have anything to do with where I had been. It was real. It was where I belonged” (Butler, 115). While this statement is referring to her California home, it very closely parallels with her new home on the plantation. She refers to home being somewhere she belonged, and when she visits the plantation numerous times she begins to feel as though belongs there with her ancestors as well.
Yet another reason why Dana begins to see the plantation as home comes from the unique time dynamic present within the wonderland in this novel. By including this concept of time in two different periods of history, Butler suggests that with time, nearly any place in the world can begin to feel like home for an individual. This statement is especially true for both Dana and Kevin. They shift back and forth between the present and past quite frequently, paralleling with something the couple had done in the past. Prior to moving in together, Dana says that Kevin and herself, “just sort of drifted back and forth between our two apartments, and I got less sleep than ever (Butler, 108). While this is directly referring to time before Dana began to time travel to the plantation, it directly relates to Kevin and Dana’s traveling back and forth now. The time period in the wonderland works in the sense that an entire day spent on the plantation translates into mere seconds back in reality. Because of this different time dynamic, it feels as though the couple has been on the plantation much longer, giving them more time to adjust and get acclimated. By allowing themselves to adjust to this new world, Dana and Kevin grow more and more comfortable, making the plantation seem like a form of home over time. They spend so much time in this alternate time that coming back home to the real world is quite difficult for the couple. Kevin struggled with basic tasks such as driving, and “he said that the traffic confused him, made him more nervous than he could see any reason for” (Butler, 244). When they return to what was once their real home, there is a large disconnect occurring. Normal tasks are now foreign to them, and home does not quite feel like the home it once did. Dana’s issue with being home is similar to Kevin’s. She has grown familiar with the plantation, and has adjusted to all that goes on there. She has even adjusted to the beatings and cruel practice of slavery, suggesting that even though horrible things were endured on that plantation, it was still able to be a second home to her over time.
Through her numerous travels, Dana has gotten beaten, bruised, whipped, and endured a great deal of emotional abuse as well. Trauma such as this most often would make individual reject the place where it occurred, but Dana is slightly different. Dana’s trauma happened gradually, and over time on the Weylin plantation. It started with the initial beating on the riverbank, the frequent derogatory language aimed at her, progressing all the way to whippings and threats. She had time to travel back to the present day between these instances, giving her breaks to process it all in a sense. Even though this entire ordeal filled with trauma occurs, she still feels a deep connection to the Weylin plantation, and almost anticipates going back. Kevin notices this, claiming, “hell, half the time I wonder if you’re not eager to go back to Maryland anyway” (Butler, 244). Even though it is a horrible place to be for her, Dana feels a deep connection to the plantation, and has grown accustomed to it overtime. This adjustment highlights how the plantation shifted in her mind from a foreign place to something familiar, and was beginning to function as a second home for Dana. She has conditioned herself to view herself as a slave and form of property, and to accept all that has happened to her as a form of survival and self-protection. She has lost a part of herself as a result of this time traveling, but has gained a new form of a home in her mind.
The idea of home can vary from one person to another, but the characteristics of what makes a home a home are often similar. Characteristics such as comfort, a sense of belonging, and safety are all parts of what makes a home a home. By presenting two drastically different time periods in Kindred, Octavia Butler is able to show that home can change overtime for an individual, and can take on a multitude of different forms. Home can be more than a place, or a person, but one constant factor is that an individual always seeks a home out, and a sense of belonging and family is almost always something desired.
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