While driving the other day, listening to my iPod, a song began to play that I had heard a thousand times before, but with time on my mind (due in great part to this course), I started hearing it a little differently. So, driving down Lincoln Avenue, I again listened to the chorus of The Format’s “Time Bomb”:
Tick tock, you’re not a clock, you’re a time bomb, baby / You set the watch, you’re just in time / To wreck my life, to bring back what I left behind
While the context for the lyrics may differ quite a bit, I couldn’t help but connect these thoughts to Octavia Butler’s time-traveling novel, Kindred—in particular to the novel’s main character, Dana. After a quick Google search of the term “time bomb,” I came up with this definition:
-- bomb designed to explode at a preset time.
---- a process or procedure causing a problem that will eventually become dangerous if not addressed.
"an environmental time bomb"
Dana seems to fit into this definition quite seamlessly. When I think of the term “bomb,” I think quick and sudden, irrational and unpredictable, which is exactly how Dana seems to transport from one time and place to another. After time-traveling a couple of times (and becoming aware that that is what is happening), Dana and those around her come to expect her abrupt presence to act much like a bomb—sudden and unexpected. However, if we are to think about a time bomb, we would expect it to “explode at a preset time,” as its definition suggests. While the characters in the novel may be unaware of this preset time, for Dana’s time-traveling ventures, Dana at least becomes aware of what causes this preset time to happen: Rufus’ life is endangered, and she must go back to save him in order to save her family line, and therefore, herself.
Even though Dana may not understand exactly when she will time-travel, or if you will, “explode,” again, she does understand that it will happen again. Dana understands this because she learns that Rufus is the one controlling when that preset time is; Rufus is able to “see” Dana from the time and place she is and “call” for her to come when he needs her. Rufus is the one that “detonates the bomb.” Even if he doesn’t consciously realize that he has done so, Rufus is the one who, in this time-traveling metaphor, detonates the bomb for Dana to come back to his time and, in a more literal sense, causes severe destruction to people, although in different physical ways, like selling, beating, and raping black slaves, pulling their families apart.
We can also think of Dana in terms of a time bomb with the other given definition as well: “a process or procedure causing a problem that will eventually become dangerous if not addressed.” The process of time traveling, and even time itself, obviously causes problems for Dana and those she loves. As she is just starting to settle into her life with her husband, moving in together, and creating a solid foundation for herself, this “time bomb” explodes and sends her whirling into the past—her past that she must protect to survive. Each time Dana is sent back and forth between times of the antebellum south and the California of 1976, she comes to realize just how many problems will eventually become dangerous if she does not address them.
In her own time of the twentieth century that she grew up with, thinking of time and the time traveling Dana experiences as this “process or procedure causing a problem,” Dana begins to realize the problems that must be addressed. For example, in the time we see Dana in 1976, time and time traveling forces her to address her relationship with her husband, Kevin, and their standing as a couple. Dana must defend herself and her education—also a problem—to those around her (yes, to her husband) in order to avoid and transcend the stereotypical clerical work she has tried so hard to overcome as a black woman in the 70s. She must also address how she can come back to 1976 unharmed, or whole, while time traveling. While throughout the novel, this idea of still being “whole” is coined more as a mental state, it turns out to be also very literal in that she loses her arm in returning to her “present” one last time.
The problems that Dana faces and must address in the antebellum south, again caused by time and time traveling, in contrast, are much starker issues—those she had only read about before. The issues that Dana faces in this time that she is at first unfamiliar with cause her to see the foundation of the issues that she faces in 1976. In her episodes of time with Rufus on the Weylin plantation, she is exposed to the brutalities and faced with the truth of the horror stories she has read about slavery and its effects. Like other black slaves that readers meet that are bound to the Weylin family, Dana recognizes that she must endure in order to address these issues, no matter the costs. She addresses these issues that time has caused as best she can in her position, willingly and prideful, and, eventually, she is successful in freeing her ancestors. While she may not seem to be very proud of herself for not saving more people, Dana bravely tackles the issues that time presents and accomplishes her mission: survival.
Kindred really had me stuck on this idea of a time bomb. Dana herself is a time bomb, not a clock. She doesn’t follow the regular, linear “time” that she had come to know in 1976 and that most of us seem to experience. But she’s also tackling the issues that time presents to us and our heritages in a much more hands-on way because she is a time bomb herself. She approaches the problems she faces, always ready, and while I was reading, all I could keep telling myself was that I would have given up long before she did. So for that, I’d like to dub Dana not a "Juke Box Hero" as Foreigner might have claimed, but a time bomb hero.