Estrangement and Cognition in Kindred by Octavia Butler

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Can it be said that the SF genre has only scientific probability? Most people are beginning to see SF as a movie, animation, or game. However, few people can clearly distinguish what exactly SF means. As people call it Science Fiction, they will guess that SF novels are novels with something scientific content. However, some works called representative SF novels are called without containing scientific contents. Therefore, I argue that the genre of science fiction should not be confined solely to the scientific background but should be categorized as genre characteristics of estrangement and cognition as Darko Suvin’s statement.

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One of the most important critics of sci-fi novels, Darko Suvin said, 'SF is, then, a literary genre, where the necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, empirical environment' (“Estrangement and Cognition”). In other words, science fiction is not merely the center of science, but that it creates a genre called SF that makes the reader feel estrangement and cognition. Estrangement and cognition refer to making readers rethink the problem by creating a new one that they either take for granted or have never thought about before.

I would like to find out some of the evidence that the technique of estrangement and cognition worked in Kindred, well-known as an SF novel, written by Octavia Butler. Kindred is a story of a black woman, Dana Franklin, who lives in the post-civilization era in 1976, as a time traveler, visiting America and experiencing slavery. The irrational reality of American society in the 1970s is revealed through the estrangement and cognition of Suvin in Kindred, which is exemplified primarily by racism and irrational marriage. For example, 'Chocolate and vanilla porn!' (Butler 56) shows a negative view of black and white couples that people thought at the time and racial discrimination between races. Also, once Dana’s cousin saw the scarring caused by the whipping in the past trip thinks that Dana was abused by her husband. So, her cousin said, 'She also advised me to send the police after Kevin. She assumed that my bruises were his work” (Butler 116). This showed the illogical marriage system by gender at the time.

That Butler explores the violent and oppressive aspects of the real world and criticizes reality by borrowing the past slavery society appears in science fiction is a device that allows readers to recall the past. The narrative description of a science fiction novel called Time Travel is an important means of creating a Kindred estrangement and cognition, and readers are reminded of the problems of reality that Dana has overlooked across the present and past America. Butler thus shows how black and white power relations based on racism are manifested in the juxtaposition of past slavery and present racial segregation, as well as of the relationship between past Rufus and Alice couples and current Kevin and Dana couples, and the oppression and sexual discrimination inherent in the marriage system.

Kindred uses estrangement and cognition techniques that Suvin claims to let readers memorize and experience the history of slavery with Dana. At the same time, it awakens the link between past slavery and current American society based on racism and sexual inequality, helping readers to have a critical view of both past and present.

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Estrangement and Cognition in Kindred by Octavia Butler. (2020, October 20). WritingBros. Retrieved July 14, 2024, from
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