The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Published by Doubleday
In Colson Whitehead’s inspiring novel The Underground Railroad, the audience is captivated by the empowering story of survival and escape from slave ownership. The novel deals with extremely important social issues facing the people of the American South, such as racism and slavery. The novel is based in a time and place where slavery was still practiced and perceived to be appropriate. Much has changed in the world since the time of slavery; however, there are parts of our society still facing these same issues. Even in parts of the United States, there are elements that come to light in the novel that are being dealt with today on a daily basis.
The novel presents many characters to the reader with each one playing an important role in the development of the plot. Every character is unique and fascinating in their own way, but the most thought-provoking character is the strong female protagonist Cora. From an early age, Cora was considered an outsider on her plantation, mainly for the fact that her mother, Mabel, escaped while Cora was an infant, leaving her behind and ultimately motherless. However, her lack of parental upbringing only serves to make Cora more independent. When given the chance, Cora shows her extreme bravery by choosing to dangerously escape the only life she has ever known. Despite Cora’s immense courage, we also witness moments during her escape where her vulnerability is exposed. Cora’s many different experiences and the full range of emotions that she goes through are what make her a truly complex character and bring her to life. Even though most readers, including myself, will never go through even fifty percent of what Cora does, I consider her to be relatable as she is portrayed as both courageous and vulnerable, making her strong character appear authentic and believable.
In the beginning of The Underground Railroad, the pace of the events started off quite slow and left me somewhat bored at times. However, once the story began to pick up, so did my interest. The first part of the novel was used to introduce the reader to the novel’s primary characters and to give us an understanding of their backstories, as well as to develop their personalities. Even though I thought a few moments written about lacked significance, I appreciate the amount of detail put into these early chapters as they shape the upcoming escape. Nonetheless, it was the middle part of the novel when I became consumed. I was constantly wondering about the fate of each character and trying to guess the potential turns the story would take. When I did finally reach the end of the novel I was upset yet eager to actually know the ending.
As I mentioned previously, The Underground Railroad is a novel based on the time period where even so-called polite society thought it was acceptable to discriminate against a different race and supported slavery. However, the issues discussed in the novel are still prevalent and flourishing in our current society. The novel portrays the extreme racism against people of colour that were used as slaves for all types of jobs, were mentally and physically abused daily, were given absolutely no freedom and were often killed with no legitimate reason. Although the treatment of people of colour has improved, racism has not disappeared. The power abused by some police officers and their apparent lack of respect for the lives of Black people and other visible minorities in parts of the United States is just one notable example. Over the years, there have been multiple cases of officers racially profiling innocent African Americans, using unnecessary force and even murdering them for no justifiable cause. This has made innocent citizens fearful that they may be targeted or killed solely for their their race or visibility as a minority. However, in both the novel and real life, we see people risk their life to help others. In The Underground Railroad, Cora encounters many helpful people who risk their life in order to operate the railroad and in real life, police officers help risk their lives on a daily basis to assist those in need regardless of the race or place in society.
Although the novel is fiction, I have learned about a very real and significant part of history. Thankfully, our part of the world no longer includes the practice of slavery. It is unbelievable how poorly slaves were treated and how these people were wrongly accused of committing acts they were not responsible for. This novel can teach the reader a lot by exposing the injustices faced both in that period and today, to respect people of all colours, ethnicities, creeds, sexualities, and genders.
Overall, I would highly recommend this novel as it is educational yet so captivating as a story. The novel is an extremely inspiring and at moments leaves you at the edge of your seat with anticipation. The Underground Railroad is a novel I would definitely read again and I am looking forward to Colson Whitehead’s future work.