Jack O’Brien Dr. Powell 10/04/2012 English 121 To Make a Slave Slaves do not have an option to decide whether they are born a slave or not, nor do they choose to be one either. In Octavia Butler’s Kindred, we find that a slave’s actions do not directly make them a slave, and nothing that they can do will affect the status quo of slavery. Rather it is the actions that a slave-owner makes that makes a slave, and in doing so takes away their humanity. Tom Weylin knows that he can have any female slave that he wants; stripping that person of her dignity and sense of ownership in her own body.
In using his slaves for his own sexual conquests Weylin is making it clear that he owns their bodies, not them. This is how he can make slaves. By stripping them of their own sense of self-worth, slaves know that it is Weylin who decides their fate not them. Upon seeing Dana step out of Kevin’s room one morning “he almost smiled-came as near to smiling as I’d ever seen. And he winked”(97) Weylin’s reaction is something to be expected because he has had many similar sexual relationships with his own slaves. By winking at Dana Weylin is putting his stamp of approval on their relationship.
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Even Dana knows “that if Margaret got me kicked out it wouldn’t be for doing a thing as normal as sleeping with my master” (97) her body is one of the only things that can help her in this time period. In this case Dana is protecting herself by having sex with Kevin, and that she needs to play a whore to protect herself. Weylin’s use of sex is one of the most powerful tools that a slave owner has at his disposal and he knows this. Sex is a symbol of power; the power to tell a woman to come into your bedroom and not have any say in the matter.
This power only reinforces Weylin’s position and therefore his ability to actually turn a slave into one. Similarly, a slave’s body is viewed as a possession; a traded commodity only seen in the value of how much money that they can gain for their master and how easily they will work to do so. By looking at a slave in this way it is easy to ignore the fact that you actually own another person as you would a house. In doing so, Weylin is just acting as a man of his time. A time where it was culturally acceptable to own, beat, and rape another human.
Since Weylin owns his slaves he can have anyone he wants and moves from slave to slave as he tires of each one. Fearing that she’ll be moved to field work Tess breaks down “You do everything they tell you, and they still treat you like a old dog. Go here, open your legs; go there, bust your back. What they care! I ain’t s’pose to have no feelings” (182) now that Weylin has tired of her as his bed mate. Even Tess knows that her own survival is dependent on how she behaves for Weylin, but at the same time she hates it. Weylin does not care about Tess, and the only value that he sees in her is how well she can perform on his plantation.
There is nothing that Tess can do to better her situation. It is hard for her to accept her situation but what choice does she have? She is a black living in the time of slavery and the only people who matter are the whites. All Tess is to Weylin is a possession and his possessions are black. Treating Tess and all of slaves like dogs is one the most efficient ways that Weylin can get his slaves to work for him. They will fear what can happen to them if they do not listen to him, and it is this fear that makes them work harder.
Fear is a powerful tool because it gets slaves to work without any real effort from Tom Weylin’s part. Fear allows Weylin to hold onto his possessions because they will not do anything stupid, and by not doing anything stupid will be good workers and make more money. Along with the fact that Weylin’s slaves are his possession; at the same time he will not go out of his way to make sure that they stay healthy. Weylin does not care if they get hurt; he “won’t pay for a doctor to fix niggers” (147) as long as it there is not a loss of profit on his part.
Ironically he has invested money into his slaves, but he knows that having a doctor to see his slaves can hurt his image as a powerful slave owner. Either his slaves die or get better, because ultimately he can always go and buy another. Weylin has the ability to decide if his slaves live or die, and their fate is in his hands. It will not bother him that a slave dies, but he will be more bothered by the fact that he has to go and spend more money to get another one. Tom Weylin is a business man and business men think about the bottom line and how much money he is making, not that he spend more money to save his slaves.
Likewise, selling a slave is just another way to press them deeper into slavery. Tom Weylin would not sell a slave unless he was causing more problems than he was worth, or he needed the money. He knows that beatings and his power instill fear, but can only do so much to break a stubborn slave. Luke was such a problem slave to Weylin. He acted as if he was white and he pushed Weylin beyond his breaking point “Daddy got tired of it. New Orleans trader came through and Daddy said it would be better to sell Luke than to whip him until he ran away” (138) that he sold one of his best workers.
Weylin is smart enough to realize that it is not worth having a battle with Luke and all he had to do to end it is sell him. Luke was sold not because Weylin gave up on trying to break him; he knew that Luke was very dangerous and getting rid of him would be better for his plantation in the long run. A man who could have been viewed as a symbol of hope to slaves was broken in one fell swoop. Luke thought that he could fight the system but he failed to realize his fighting would only further make him a slave.
In the end it is ultimately the power of the slave owner that can force a slave deeper into slavery’s grasp. Through the actions of one man is a slave created. A slave owner is able to take away the dignity of his slaves and in doing so can easily indoctrinate a slave to further become one. Slaves do not get to choose if they are black or white, neither do they get to choose what happens in their daily life. It is the decisions of a single person who determines what dozens of people should do on their own, and that is how slaves are made.