lecture notes



Tracy K. Smith, Don't You Wonder, Sometimes?



How much is a minority or African American identity still identifiable in the poem? If not for the photo of Smith, would anyone without previous knowledge assume hers is an African American voice?


If not, what does it say about an evolving cosmopolitan, multicultural, or global identity that may replace or over-ride America’s inherited ideas or identities concerning minorities?

(Bowie himself developed such an identity, borrowing heavily from African American and Caribbean music and dance as well as other sources.)







Midterm response > final exam

need for minority definition

literary device? symbols

not teaching course again, so . . .


final exams, literary device working for some, not for others

but minority meaning  Course Objectives


individual responsibility + historical / environmental determinism



teaching and learning Literature


1. Literature as meaning, identity and escape > humanity? [language, fiction as human creations that create meaning]


2. literary devices [how]


3. literary and cultural history



science fiction attracts non-majors [literature of ideas]


science fiction meets students' needs in rapidly changing world





us-them? humans as social creatures, but primal, fundamental impulse to divide to social groups

23 April

Reading assignments: Kindred,  pp. 52-188 (through "The Fight"); (back matter: "Reader's Guide" pp. 265-288.

reading discussion leader(s): Kara Delaughter




1. Discuss the use of science fiction / time travel as a literary device for discussing a historical event like slavery.







1a. How is slavery a defining historical instance of minority status? How does that minority status continue for Dana in the 20th century?









1b. Continuing the sexual dimension of slavery, how does gender identity play into or against the racial or ethnic dimensions of slavery or minority status? Compare and contrast the relations between Kevin and Weylin, Dana and Margaret, Dana and Sarah, and Dana and Rufus.










2. Most people don't like history (except as self-affirming), but how does history help us avoid fiction's tendency to divide people into heroes and villains, victims and victimizers? Or flip: how does fiction simplify history?










2a. How does fiction "personalize" slavery or make us care and see its consequences for blacks and whites? How does fiction complicate our ideas or visions about history?








2b. How does understanding slavery as a foundation of American history help understand not just black America but white America?











3. For literary purposes or devices, how and why does Kindred introduce two leading characters who are writers, a past character (Miss Hannah) who was a reader, and Rufus as a character with a reading disorder? What are the consequences for identity from being able to read and write well?











4. For what makes us human, how is slavery dehumanizing, especially in its destruction or distortion of black and white families?













5. Watch for references to Frederick Douglass.












6. History as conditioning, deterministic; environmental influences on character, humanity—how much can we escape or redirect history?

The Fall

52 casual labor market x slave market

52 [realism] one shoe

+ shorted potato chips

53 nonpeople rented

53 working on my novels

54 unusual-looking white man

54 Compton

54-55 writer’s life (1970s)

56 parents dead, auto accident (romance hero)

57 a kindred spirit

57 Kevin and I / me

58 Kevin lay beside me

[accelerates plot]

59 broken leg, Nigel

60 whether anyone’s made Daddy mad

61 learned to talk that way

61 cf. nigger, trash

62 California of 1976 / 1819

62 real . . . how? . . . don’t know

63 time travel was science fiction

63 1820 Missouri Compromise

64 coins > bicentennial quarter [realism]

65 play the roles

65 broken leg . . . cost me

65 black man look of disgust

66 19c medicine

68 Rufus becoming his father

70 people didn’t like, wasn’t just racial

71 look of pity [human]

72 cf FD, children fed

72 utensils [realism]

73 [psych]

75 Carrie; Rufus defended


76 only baby kept

76 slave children . . . didn’t know they were slaves

77 place would rub off on him

79 need friends [human]

79 [Kevin as writer, inventive]

80 Weylin x-education, resents

80 find humanity in him [human]

80 class

81 You call that human

81 red-haired version of father

83 environment influencing

83 survive

84 your theory [sf]

84 family moreal woman x chases me

85 slave kids look like Weylin

85 Kevin’s limits

86 Aunt Sarah x-Mammy

86 Daddy sold [my friend]

87 Crusoe, slave trading

87 a castaway myself

87 books belonged to Miss Hannah

88 learning disability?

90 Weylin’s eyes like Kevin’s

90-1 my fertility none of his business [1970s x 1810s]

91 I played the slave

92 making an example

92 preserve a little 1976

93 a Christian house

93 Margaret little or nothing to do [human, cf. Avila]

94 duties as master

94 prepared me to survive

95 sell babies > furniture, china, fancy things [dehumanize]

95 Miss Hannah a real lady [class]

95 you work [human]

95 Matters what is

Dialogue of black women

96 don’t argue with white folks

96 black overseer

96 ignored, continued, nothing happened

95-6 [passive resistance]

97 became part of household, disturbed me

97 acclimatize

97 go west—Indians cf blacks

Kevin looked strangely

98 observers watching history, actors

98 everybody smelled

99 imitating what seen adults doing

Preparing for future

100 Kevin-Dana dialogue > action?

101 I can’t maintain the distance

101 how people trained to accept slavery

102 talking back, so don’t say much

104 a smaller replica of his father

105 more rational


The Fight

108 independence (personal income)

110 sisters husband a good Nazi

111 x-whites > light blacks

111 marry someone who looks like him

112 married in Vegas, clock from Atlantic

I awoke [sub-chapter]

113 Kevin in 1819

115 memory no place at home

115 Friday, June 11, 1976

2 months = 1 day

116 all over, write about it

116 books about slavery and nonfiction

Gone with the Wind

117 Nazis, antebellum whites

118 cf. Sarah, holding self back

120 Kevin gone north

123 right to say no x rights

Her own fault

124 a little humanity?

Shame in loving a black woman

124 in your time, married her

125 x-lie to each other

126 “Home at last”

127 smoothed out time-distorted reality

129 Nigel, another Luke

130 Weylin gives Dana a choice

132 Sarah could have been his mother

133 slaves’ marriage ceremonies

134 He’s a fair man

Monster > ordinary man + society

135 explain x describe

[time sequence]

137 twins’ infant mortality]

138 mean low white trash [Jake]

138 Luke to New Orleans

139 free black papers torn up, sold

You sound like a slaveholder

140 abolitionist, book, century since, why still complaining

140 that’s history . . . offends you or not

J D B DeBow

F Douglass, S Truth, H Tubman Sojourner Truth, Ain't I a Woman? (Speech to the Women's Rights Convention)

141 Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey

142 desperation x- whimsy, anger

143 North Star x map

You’re home [creepy? Uncaring?]

143 Isaac, Alice 4 days of freedom

144 why should they work hard?

People watch

145 North cf. heaven, none come back

145 Sarah held in contempt in 1960s

147 Aunt Mary + herbs

147 keloids [scars w/ built-up cellulose, more common in African descent]

148 Isaac overland to Michigan

149 Rufus got possession . . . made no sense

149 cut off Isaac’s ears

140 Rufus drunk + rape

140 Kevin x black and white

Like that when married

151 Sarah’s oldest son < Miss Hannah’s father

150-1 Sarah knows Rufus

Rufus helped

154 return to reality when strong enough (cf. Round House)

154 Carrie + baby

155 Nigel’s work on cabin = investment for Rufus

155 Alice + work [human]

156 Alice doesn’t realize she’s a slave (cf. Jacobs, FD)

151 Alice a slave because helped a slave

159 Weylin taking Tess to bed

160 doctor nigger, reading-nigger, white nigger

160 why not let me die?

160 cries of a baby

161 one nigger richer

162 welcome hard work [human]

163 involve me in that rape

163 Rufus: you want Kevin like I want Alice [human?]

163 . . . be with his own kind

164 think you’re white, don’t know your place

164 all the low cunning of his class

165 white nigger, turning against your own people

165 Liza, potential enemy

167 It’s your body.  Not mine. His.

167 > women’s dialogue

168 only one I can hurt and not get hurt back

169 cf. prep in P of S

170 two letters, my handwriting

170 become a boy

171 overplanning

173 someone betrayed me

176 [reciprocation; human]

177 Harriet Tubman

177 how easily slaves are made

178 Liza, sewing woman

Alice: to get at me

179 Weylin writes to Kevin, fairer than Rufus

179-80 destructive single-minded love

180 Rufus younger brother, Alice sister

181 [code of honor] my word to black or white

Respect [human]

181 Tess to Jake and fields

182 slavery long precess of dulling [cf. FD]

183 Methodist minister

184 [compassion, pity, defense] [human]

187 your keep x you people owe me [cf. prisons]

187 voice gone hard [x-human]

The Storm

190 Kevin a slight accent

190 as though he were

191 Kevin and I lived here only 2 days

191 losing place here in my own time

191 women die in childbirth

191 cut finers for writing

191 a good breeder

192 everything here so soft, easy

192 Denmark Vesey?

193 5 years longer than it sounds

193 [electric] typewriter

194 something closed and ugly (x-human)

195 sonit boom, jet

195 antiseptic, Excedrin

196 chops still frosty, how long gone

Only hours; K 8 days

196 South Africa cf. 19c

196 a few hours, 2 months

198 tripped over Rufus, drunk or sick

199 Weylin bent and old

199 he took offense so easily [x-human]

199 look as young as you ever did

200 he had done at least one decent thing

200 one human being to another, grateful

201 x-beating > help son

201 [figure of speech] > literally

203 ague > malaria

204 trying to kill yourself

206 Sarah, everybody getting older

207 Alice looked harder [dehumanized]

207 white babies, red hair

210 Alice blamed Rufus [Rufus blamed Dana]

211 Fowler as animal

212 Kill self today > every day

213 cf. Rufus’s and Kevin’s words

214 Rufus sounded, looked like his father

216 laudanum for Margaret

217 Alice another baby, Hagar?

219 > women’s dialogue

220 time to myself; stopped acting?

221 be my own master

221 coffle

222 How do it? My property

[Dana suspected of assimilating?]

223 If Tom dies, all sold

223 more white than black

224 it doesn’t come off

225 dengue fever?

226 Daddy left debts.

227 persuasive letters

227 Rufus didn’t like working

228 Alice and Dana “one woman”

228 shorthand as cypher

229 like, contempt, fear

230 teach Joe to read and write

231 the boy captured him

233 Hagar!

234 names symbolic

234 more give, more wants

x-what people call me

235 white nigger you are

236 a common enemy to unite us

236 Methodist minister: reading > disobedient

237 Sam James

237 do things they don’t like to say alive and whole

238 Sam > coffle

238 he hit me—breaks agreement

239 cut my wrists


The Rope

240 [cutting wrists] got me home

241 Louis George, nonfiction

[suppression of labor]

241 3 hours = 8 months

242 tied to my denim bag J

242 how do well at owning and trading slaves?

242 a man of his time

242 breeding [violation of privacy]

243 real now, isn’t it?

What do?

243 15 full days together June 29-July 3

243 reverse symbolism: July 4

243 I wouldn’t rest easy till I knew Rufus was dead

244 intervals no meaning

Rufus 25

245 hasn’t raped me = Rufus’s suiide

246 Tess could be me

256 accept limits

247 power mine, or something in him

247 Rufus no older but something wrong

248 Alice dead

249 sold her babies . . . his children?

What he care about that?

251 two certificates of freedom

252 minister coal-black freedman

Literate . . . Job

252 big dinner after funeral

[slave culture > black culture]

252 Court House, certificates of freedom [cf. Douglass]

253 lonely people sharing [human]


253 Rufus: master > father [human]

254 away three months

254 freeing more . . . in his will

Civil War still 30 years away

254 motive to kill Rufus

254 you leaving me

255 help me or notes you chose

255 trust both ways [human]

255 you confuse everybody [new American]

255 black who watches, thinks, makes trouble

257-8 “I’m sorry” first time [human?]

258 lonely: words touched me. I knew . . .

258 Aunt Mary . . . come over from Africa

258 grief, loneliness, uncertainty

260 not his father, had bathed

260 accept as ancestor, brother, friend; not as master, lover

261 still caught, joined to wall [symbol?]

Spot Rufus’s fingers grasped



262 flew to Maryland

Steamship > bridge

262 schools with black and white kids

Older people looked at Kevin and me

262 house was dust, like Rufus

262 newspaper, fire, slave sale

263 Margaret and grandchildren or slaves?

263 14th Amendment

263 why he couldn’t make well

264 scar, empty left sleeve

Reader’s guide

265 neo-slave narrative

266 Edana [naming]

267 arm as emblem, symbol

267 cf. Kafka’s Metamorphosis

268 past researched

268 human relationships

269 “grim fantasy” x sf

270 life experience > extend through fiction

271 1940s-50s sf “colorblind”

272 Ursula K. Le Guin

273 speculative fiction

274 metaphors

275 black community, white aliens

276 pretending > reality

277 Frederick Douglass

278 fantastic travelogue + slave narrative

278 cf. Jacobs’s ethics of compromise 

10.6 confuses all principles of morality, different standards

 Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

cf. Sarah 145