Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred introduced me to slavery in America like I’d never seen it before. Butler shows the reader how to relate to slavery’s brutality by comparing antebellum medicine with modern medicine of the time. Dana experienced the rapid advances in medical science in what she considered the present day, the late 1970s. Modern medicine allows us, as readers, to be able to connect with Dana who was living in the 1800s. She experienced drastically inferior medical practices. Although this affected everyone, it was especially affecting the slaves and the plantations.
Dana is introduced to the barbaric practices of medicine in the 1800s by Alice when she tells her that two of Dana’s children have died. “What caused their deaths?” I asked. ‘Fevers. They died despite the doctor bleeding and purging them. The babies were aged between 2 and 3. He said the fever would be broken. It did. They died, but they did. Dana found it shocking that a physician would treat infants with this form of fever-treating medicine. Dana was shocked that a doctor would do this to an infant as a form of treatment for fevers.
Butler uses the scene to demonstrate the impact of medical procedures during that time on slaves. A mother would find it devastating to watch her baby’s life be saved by a doctor who bled and purified them. She had no other option. Dana told Alice that she shouldn’t even have let doctors near the babies. However, since Rufus had also fathered them, Alice didn’t get to decide. Because she was a servant and had her babies conceived by a man who owned her, she did not have any say in decisions regarding her kids. Dana understands the importance modern medicine holds in people’s everyday lives. The reader can therefore better relate to Dana as Butler highlights medievalesque medicine.
Tom Weylin threatens Dana with her life, if Rufus should die. “What do you mean by mosquitoes causing people to get ague?” He asked. I said, “We can probably forget about it.” This does not look to be malaria. He is in pain. “I think you should take him to the doctor” (205). Dana, Tom and Rufus had this exchange while standing near Rufus who was in excruciating pain. Dana’s task is to cure a severe and potentially life-threatening condition that she is not aware of. Tom, who is adamant about not wanting a physician to assist Rufus in healing, leaves all of the responsibility with Dana. Tom believes that Dana will be able do the same thing again because she has saved Rufus’s lives on multiple occasions. Dana can’t control the severity of the illness, nor does Tom. Dana finally managed to ease Rufus’s discomfort by forcing Rufus into taking the aspirin that she brought from home.
Butler probably used this to demonstrate how rare it was to find any medical treatment of any quality on a slave plantation in this period. Rufus is the son the the plantation’s owner. He was never treated before Dana. In the 1800s, even one of the commonest drugs worked wonders for a severely ill patient. Rufus’ illness was not known to anyone. He received no treatment, no medicine, no method, or any procedure. The only thing they did was to try and make him more comfortable. It was a dangerous environment because there were no effective medications.
Alice suffered severe injuries due to dog bites when she was captured while trying escape. Tom Weylin doesn’t want to pay to have his slaves cured by doctors, so Dana does it for Alice. Rufus responds with “anti-what?” to her question. Dana decides to use a brine as a treatment for the wounds. “But…that’s the brine that Daddy uses to treat field workers,” he responded. “It can hurt them more than a beating sometimes. Dana is aware of how deadly and painful infected wounds can become if they are not properly treated. So, even though Alice will feel the pain from the brine, it’s necessary to save her life. Dana was so embarrassed by her actions that she admitted it to herself. Butler uses this example to show the reader the brutality of slavery through the lack of medical care. Rufus being unable to identify an antiseptic shows just how far medicine had progressed.
Butler sheds light on slavery’s raw truths and the consequences that followed. Butler goes into great detail about the medical and after-effects of slavery. Butler uses this idea about the horrors in antebellum medicine to illustrate the brutality of slavery.