In the novel Kindred by Octavia E. Butler, Butler tells a story of an African- American woman named Dana who travels from 1976 in California to the 1800’s in Maryland. Dana goes back in time to save Rufus, her ancestor, every time he is faced with life threatening situations. Throughout her journey in Maryland she gets life experience of what being a slave was like in the past. In the novel we learn of two slaves, Sarah and Alice, who live on the Weylin plantation. Sarah, an older slave, is the cook on the plantation who seems to make herself adjust to life as a slave. Alice who is owned by Rufus struggles to make their relationship work. Through the characters of Dana, Alice, and Sarah the reader is able to understand the emotional endurance of the psychological toll of slavery.
One important psychological toll of slavery is fear of slave owners, abuse, and of losing everything. Many slaves lived in fear throughout their life and some of them learned to accept the fear. Sarah lives with constant fear throughout the story. The only person she has left is Carrie, her daughter who cannot speak. Sarah’s husband died and three of her children were sold. Here we can see that Sarah accepted the life of slavery out of fear: “She had done the safe thing-had accepted a life of slavery because she was afraid.”(145) Many slaves during that time seemed to make themselves accept their life. They would accept and behave in order for their family and their own safety, although the slaves were never always safe and still risked being separated from their family.
Also, the abuse that the slaves receive traumatizes them and therefore fear being mistreated. Many of the slaves back then feared the slave owners because they were capable of anything. Although Sarah was never beaten during the story she seems to be traumatized of all the abuse she has seen. Here her fear is clearly visible: “You need to look at some of the niggers they catch and bring back, you need to see them-starving, ‘bout naked, whipped, dragged, bit by dogs…you need to see them.”(145) It seems that some slaves learned to cooperate once they see what can actually happen to them if they do not.
A second important psychological toll of slavery is anger. Many slaves had a lot of anger in them. Some would take out their anger on others while others just dealt with it. Sarah lives with anger throughout the story. Mrs. Weylin, Rufus mom, asks her husband, Mr. Weylin, for new things and since he does not have the money he sales some of his slaves. The slaves that Mr. Weylin sold were three of Sarah’s children. Sarah’s anger and reasons for her anger are clearly visible:
She wanted new furniture, new china dishes, fancy things you see in that
house now. What she had was good enough for Miss. Hannah, and Miss.
Hannah was a real lady. Quality. But it wasn’t good enough for white-trash
Margaret. So she made Marse Tome sell my three boys to get money to buy
things she didn’t even need! (95)