Welcome to Week 2 of the Online Book Club discussion of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.
Did you enjoy the beginning of the book this week? The subject matter of this book is so hard to read about, but it's so important. If you'd like to hear what Colson Whitehead says about the importance of reading about slavery, check out the video clip below. I think it's important to remember that the horrible acts in this book aren't recounted for shock value or to make the book more sensational. Instead, they remind readers about the reality of the enslaved and the reality of the darkness of our country's history.
To me, one of the most fascinating parts about this book was the fact that the Underground Railroad in the book was a literal railroad. When he was younger, Whitehead mistakenly believed that the Underground Railroad was an actual train, and he drew upon the memory of that misunderstanding when beginning to write the novel. You can read more about that story in this article. Didn't you enjoy the fact that there was an underground set of tunnels that shuttled enslaved people from state to state? I thought it was a really interesting idea, and it drew me into the story immediately.
At the beginning of the book, we hear about Ajarry, Cora's grandmother, and we understand how she was kidnapped and brought to America. In this section, we understand that Cora carries the weight of her grandmother's trauma, so that's why she first tells Caesar that she cannot escape with him. But, as the story progresses, and Cora experiences more on the plantation, she agrees to leave with Caesar.
Life on the plantation was obviously horrific, and it was incredibly hard to read about the beatings and abuse the enslaved people faced on a daily basis. But, I did find it interesting how there was a hierarchy among the enslaved with women in the "Hob" being the lowest of the low. I was also surprised to read about the little bits of yard that the enslaved people fought over. I was also surprised with the way the two brothers ran the plantation at the beginning. It was surprising to me that each brother owned half and was able to run his half the way he wished. The brothers were definitely very different. Were you surprised that each brother was able to impose a different kind of rule on his part of the land? Didn't you wish that James, the "nice" brother was the one who had lived and not Terrance?
When Cora and Caesar finally escape, Lovey joins them. I think, from the beginning, I realized that the group would not do as well with Lovey coming along. She wasn't as prepared for the journey. Were you surprised that Cora killed the boy that tried to kidnap her? I definitely didn't blame her for her actions, but I did think that was a surprising part of the story. I was glad that Cora and Caesar were able to make it to the station, but I knew that the killing Cora did would make people more eager to come and capture her. What did you think of the station? Was it what you imagined it would be?
Near the end of the section, we're introduced to Ridgeway. He was so incredibly terrifying. Did you catch that the only slave he hasn't been able to track down is Cora's mother? That makes him even more excited to capture Cora. Didn't you just shiver every time you read about him?
In the last part of this section, Cora and Caesar make it to South Carolina, and everything seems really great at first. It seems like the formerly enslaved people are able to live free and easy, but eventually, we realize there are forced sterilizations happening, and men are unwillingly participating in a syphilis study. I wish Cora and Caesar had escaped earlier, but couldn't you understand why they were wanting to stick around? It did seem like a safe place on the surface. Ridgeway eventually makes it to South Carolina and burns down Sam's house, but Cora manages to sneak away. Do you think Caesar is dead? I don't know how he could make it out when Ridgeway was on his trail.
What do you think is going to happen to Cora? Where do you think she's going to end up next?
I hope you're able to keep reading the book for next week. I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments section! Make sure to read through the Tennessee section before joining us next week!