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The Underground Railroad
A magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's desperate bid for...
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Why do you think the author chose a female for the main character instead of a male?

Created: 11/06/16

Replies: 11

Posted Nov. 06, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
kellyo

Join Date: 09/15/16

Posts: 36

Why do you think the author chose a female for the main character instead of a male?

Why do you think the author chose a female for the main character instead of a male?


Posted Nov. 06, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
kellyo

Join Date: 09/15/16

Posts: 36

RE: Why do you think the author chose a female for the main character instead of a male?

I had thought about this question as I was reading the book. I wondered why a male author chose a female as his protagonist and how the story would have changed had it been told from a male point of view.

I recently read an interview in which the author was asked why he chose a female as a main character. He stated he had several options including a lonely man, a child, etc. but decided on a mother/daughter dynamic as this was not something he had ever tried before. I think he did a great job!

I think he could have told some of the same story had the main character been a man, but there would definitely be some differences. Slavery and living in constanstant fear due to corporal punishment would be felt by either sex. The desire to live free and make your own choices is a universal desire.

Cora was a stronger women than some of the other women in the story. She was very maternal & protective of Chester. I am not sure that scene would have occurred if the main character was a man. This is not to say men are uncaring, but during that time period men were not as involved in child care as the women were. Many of the female slaves were subjected to rape which caused increased physical and emotional pain that some of the men did not have to contend with.

I would be curious to hear any other thoughts on this and how the story would have been the same or different.


Posted Nov. 07, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

Posts: 130

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RE: Why do you think the author chose a female for the main character instead of a male?

Well, it seems from your comments that he told us why, so maybe the question is now, what did he (and what do we) gain from choosing a female protagonist here? A female is a lot more vulnerable to abuse and assault, so that choice certainly adds to our fears for Cora on the plantation and on her dangerous journey. But knowing that Whitehead is trying in this book to call our attention to the illusion of freedom and equality in America today, I think Cora also represents the current plight of black women, at the bottom of the pay scale (due to the double whammy of racism and sexism), and with so many of them also forced to make their way on their own, given how racial violence impacts on black men.

Cora also represents all women's longings for learning, growth, empowerment, and a relationship with a respectful and loving partner.


Posted Nov. 08, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
kellyo

Join Date: 09/15/16

Posts: 36

RE: Why do you think the author chose a female for the main character instead of a male?

You stated that question better than I did after working a 16 hour shift and being up all night! That is exactly what I was trying to say, but you stated it so much better. Thank you!


Posted Nov. 09, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
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jant

Join Date: 07/15/14

Posts: 20

RE: Why do you think the author chose a female for the main character instead of a male?

I think the author would intensify the cruelty with a female character. The punishment of the male slaves seem to be death whereas the punishment of the female slaves was rape. For me, the punishment of rape is worse than death. The Hub was the place to put the especially rebellious females who needed extra punishment. I also agree with JLPen, Cora did represent the longings of an adult female especially children - and that was taken away from her.


jan t
Posted Nov. 09, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
judyg

Join Date: 04/20/11

Posts: 14

RE: Why do you think the author chose a female for the main character instead of a male?

I agree with much already contributed above. I would like to add that I believe part of the author's "mission" in writing the book was to help white and non-African American readers understand what being a slave was like at a visceral level. Females are typically considered to more frequently talk about emotions and feelings about the things happening in their lives than males. It was important for this author to help readers visualize, smell, taste and hear what the slavery experience was like. The author did an excellent job of carrying our what I think was a "mission" for this book.


Posted Nov. 10, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
edie

Join Date: 04/05/12

Posts: 44

RE: Why do you think the author chose a female for the main character instead of a male?

In addition to the increased vulnerability of being a female vs male black and how that finds an echo in today's culture, as JLPen so aptly put it, I think the courage and fierce determination to be free is so much more startling in a young girl than it would have been in a male. We expect men to lead in the fight for freedom, especially in that time when slavery dominated the political, economic, and social structure of this country. But when we see this slight teenage girl who's is shunned as an outcast even among her own people take a stand to defend Chester, fight for her small plot of dirt, risk the consequences of a failed escape, challenge the sterilization program of South Carolina, hold her own with Ridgeway etc, it underlines and boldfaces the indomitability of the human spirit in its quest for freedom and self determination.


Posted Nov. 15, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

Posts: 130

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RE: Why do you think the author chose a female for the main character instead of a male?

Edie, I like what you said. It is more startling. And it also has history behind it when we consider that Harriet Tubman was instrumental in developing the real Underground Railroad and Sojourner Truth in articulating this struggle at Seneca Falls...


Posted Nov. 16, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
joycew

Join Date: 06/13/11

Posts: 75

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RE: Why do you think the author chose a female for the main character instead of a male?

I think there have been numerous movies and books about men as slaves; this gives the woman's perspective.
It is easier for a woman to relate to another woman's problems and since half the world is women, it is a good idea to show their problems and emotions.


Posted Nov. 17, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
celiaarnaud

Join Date: 04/18/12

Posts: 35

RE: Why do you think the author chose a female for the main character instead of a male?

It seems to me that there are many ways the story would have played out differently if the main character had been a man. The ongoing struggle with Ridgeway would have become much about physical strength. I'm also not sure that Ridgeway would have been taking it so personally if he was bested by a man. A woman getting the better of him had to have been an affront to his masculinity. I also wonder if we find it easier to connect emotionally with a female character, partially because of the enhanced sense of vulnerability others have already mentioned.


Posted Nov. 22, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
alisonf

Join Date: 01/31/13

Posts: 90

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RE: Why do you think the author chose a female for the main character instead of a male?

Making the protagonist young and female helped with showing the vulnerabilities particular to being female in addition to a slave. Because she's female the master was even more insulted that she successfully ran away and created some of the tension.


Posted Nov. 22, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
marganna

Join Date: 10/14/11

Posts: 90

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RE: Why do you think the author chose a female for the main character instead of a male?

Colson Whitehead says he choose a female character because he'd never done that before. OK And I have to agree with all of the above statements - the entire dynamic of the story would have been vastly different told from a male character's point of view. A woman has death to fear as do male characters but women are raped, bear children, lose children...
The story with a woman as the main character enhances the story and I have very intense feelings with Cora.


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