The Underground Railroad

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Judge William Jay, a son of the first chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, resolved to disregard fugitive-slave laws, and donated money to help escapees. Yet in New York, runaways contested their freedom aboveground, in courtrooms and in the streets. In , a man named George Kirk stowed away on a ship from Savannah to New York, only to be found by the captain and placed in shackles, awaiting return to his master.

After the ship docked, black stevedores heard his cries for help and alerted abolitionist leaders, who managed to get a sympathetic judge to rule that Kirk could not be held against his will.

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The victorious fugitive left court surrounded by a vigilant phalanx of local African Americans. Soon, however, the mayor ordered police to arrest Kirk, and after an unsuccessful attempt by abolitionists to smuggle him away inside a crate marked American Bible Society , he was hauled back into court. The same judge now found different legal grounds on which to release Kirk, who this time rolled off triumphantly in a carriage and soon reached the safety of Boston. Sydney Howard Gay, the editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard , descended from Puritan luminaries and had married a rich and radical Quaker heiress.

While Gay published abolitionist manifestos and raised money, Napoleon prowled the New York docks in search of black stowaways and crisscrossed the Mason-Dixon Line guiding escapees to freedom. Apparently none mentioned Drapetomania, Dr. U ltimately, Foner demonstrates that the term Underground Railroad has been a limiting, if not misleading, metaphor. Certainly a nationwide network existed, its operations often covered in secrecy. Yet its tracks ran not just through twisting tunnels but also on sunlit straightaways. Its routes and timetables constantly shifted.

The Underground Railroad did, in a sense, have conductors and stationmasters, but the vast majority of its personnel helped in ways too various for such neat comparisons.

Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

Nearly as diverse were its passengers and their stories. Although only a small minority of Northerners participated in the Underground Railroad, its existence did much to arouse Northern sympathy for the lot of the slave in the antebellum period, at the same time convincing many Southerners that the North as a whole would never peaceably allow the institution of slavery to remain unchallenged.

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The two set out to evade the bounty hunters and restart their lives this time as free people. I really enjoyed a lot of things Cora is a slave on a plantation in Georgia where conditions are especially rough because of the cotton industry. I really enjoyed a lot of things about this book, especially the writing and Cora.

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There were just a few things that kept me from feeling like it was amazing though. First the whole thing about the railroad being an actual underground railroad felt unnecessary, maybe I'm just not smart enough to pick up whatever allusion was being made. It kind of made me confused for a second and I started doubting my whole life because I went wait I thought the underground railroad was a metaphor and I had to double check to make sure I wasn't missing something. Also I really didn't care very much about a lot of the back stories especially the one for the bounty hunter, the whole time I kept wishing he would just go away and die already but maybe that was the point, I don't think he's meant to be likable.

The last thing was view spoiler [ finding out what actually happened to Cora's mother, which I mean I had figured in the beginning is what happened but I think it took something away to actually confirm it hide spoiler ]. None of those things were really big enough to take away from the over all enjoyment of the book though. It was really well written and talks about topics that are pretty hard to stomach but these are things we should acknowledge. View all 5 comments. Sep 09, Violet wells rated it liked it Shelves: booker , pulitzer.

It must be hard for a writer to create an uneducated character. Toni Morrison has set the benchmark, an almost impossibly high benchmark. Of late Marilyn Robinson did a good job with Lila. Whitehead evades this challenge principally by giving his central character Cora little if any inner life. Therefore this is a novel principally of surface realities. What this means is I never felt I got to know Cora.

The Underground Railroad []

She was eluding me as energetically as she was trying to elude all her other pursuers. Because Cora never stays with anyone for long she never has a faithful sounding board or foil which enables her to dramatise her inner life. She remains very cinematic, an image rather than a sensibility. It beggars belief that educated human beings could treat other human beings with such perverted humiliating abuse. The Holocaust is often used by writers nowadays as the winning template for a thrilling and moving story.

In other words the unspeakable, the inconceivable are reduced to everyday terms of reference we all recognise - essentially the good guys running from the bad guys.

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There is an element of that here too. We get to feel good about ourselves for cheering on Cora and booing the plantation bosses and slave catchers. The Punch and Judy principle of storytelling. For me the success of Twelve Years a Slave was it never strained to entertain. The Underground Railway does try to entertain and the outcome for me was that it was less moving as a result. Somewhere between 3 and 4 stars.

View all 41 comments. When it won the National Book Award I picked it up, and slowly read it throughout the winter in bits and pieces. Many scenes were harrowing and it was difficult to read at times. I had to walk away from it often. I read it again this month in preparation for a book discussion with the author we hosted at my library. The second time around, I could focus on the writing, the structure, and the way each scene was constructed, because I already knew the heartbreaking and horrifying details of what the characters endured, and I loved the book so much more.

In Underground Railroad it all works beautifully. I never once felt grumpy that Whitehead condensed events or shifted some details in service of a larger truth. This book gave me ample fodder for thought, conversation, and writing. Oprah used one of her many superpowers to have it published a month and a half early. It has to be a special kind of book that will inspire that kind of action. That is the magic of this book.

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To us, it is a horrifying look at a shameful, inexcusable part of history; to Cora, it is just life as she knows it. My heart felt like it had been sledgehammered by the end. I cannot stop thinking about this book, and will not be surprised in the least if it wins all the awards. Whitehead is a remarkable, multifaceted writer, and this is his best yet.

It has the weight and depth of an allegory, as well as the detail and insight of a character-driven novel. View all 11 comments.