Not Logged in.
Book Jacket
The Underground Railroad
A magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's desperate bid for...
Summary and Reviews
Excerpt
Reading Guide
Author Biography

What role do you think stories play for Cora and other travelers using the underground railroad?

Created: 10/27/16

Replies: 6

Posted Oct. 27, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 1358

Expert

What role do you think stories play for Cora and other travelers using the underground railroad?

Cora constructs elaborate daydreams about her life as a free woman and dedicates herself to reading and expanding her education. What role do you think stories play for Cora and other travelers using the underground railroad?


Posted Oct. 31, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
ellenf

Join Date: 03/04/13

Posts: 11

RE: What role do you think stories play for Cora and other travelers using the underground railroad?

Daydreaming must have helped Cora deal with the ugly and hopeless life in which she was trapped. While she was in the attic in North Carolina reading was the only thing that kept her sane.


Posted Nov. 03, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

Posts: 164

Expert

RE: What role do you think stories play for Cora and other travelers using the underground railroad?

Cora seems to invite people to tell their stories, from underground agents to Ridgeway. I think in a world without books, this is her way of learning, educating herself about the wider world beyond her limited experience, and she is someone hungry to know and learn. This aspect of storytelling I sense is reflective of the historical reality. It would be important as a way for slaves to know "the lay of the land," too, whether adapting to a different plantation or owner, or to different locations on the journey to the North and freedom. Storytelling is a powerful tool for human beings to convey information, but beyond survival, stories also helped to cope with trauma, to explore identity, to remember loved ones, to escape reality and to imagine and keep hope alive.

There's something else, though: I noticed Cora would sense when she could ask for a story in order to "buy time." She used that trick to get the agent Martin talking so she could spend more time sitting up and walking in the attic instead of cramped in the overhead loft, in North Carolina. She used it with Ridgeway, after being recaptured, so she could explore her escape options.


Posted Nov. 11, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
edie

Join Date: 04/05/12

Posts: 44

RE: What role do you think stories play for Cora and other travelers using the underground railroad?

JL Pen nails it. I can only add concurring observations.

Cora's stories, whether memories of ancestral roots in Ajarry and Mabel, histories recited by friends and enemies she encounters on her journey, or dreams of her future, all help her to sense of her world and her place in it. But most of all, they provide the motivation for her to keep going, keep reaching for something better, keep striving to become more.

When she was in Georgia, it was admiration for Ajarry who endured so much and learned how to survive by not challenging the inevitability of her fate, yet defended her three square feet of soil with tenacity, while from her her mother Mabel, she learned to to survive abandonment and being an outcast, fight for what was hers, and take the risk of running--not because she admired Mabel, but because she hated her for leaving her behind and escaping Randall's. Cora says it's both Ajarry and Mabel's voices that influence her decision to join Caesar--even dreams of Mabel enjoying a wonderful life of freedom and ease in Canada. In the end, it's Mabel's voice that wins, not because Core admires her more, but because she hates her mother for leaving her behind. Hatred and anger are powerful motivators.

Her dreams of escape and something better are equally powerful. As Cora says, "To walk around with that in your head and do nothing, was to die." They are fueled by the people who help her on the way: Lumbly, the station agent who introduces her to the underground railroad and the ambiguities surrounding it--no guarantees about your destination except that it won't be the same as where you are now, no assurance of continuity or permanence, only that it required a choice, a decision to take the chance. It is Lumbly who tells them that every state is different, each one a state of possibility, with its own customs and way of doing things. Moving through them, you'll see the breadth of the country before you reach your final stop."

Cora keeps list of those who become her guides, teachers, and sacrificial lambs on the road to freedom--including the white boy she accidentally kills. And, she learns from them by adding each story to her growing understanding so that when we leave her at the end of the book, heading west in the company of a new companion, we say goodbye with hope for a promising future.


Posted Nov. 14, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
jeannew

Join Date: 04/23/11

Posts: 91

Expert

RE: What role do you think stories play for Cora and other travelers using the underground railroad?

Wow! JLPen and edie nailed it perfectly. Especially with Cora asking for stories to buy time. I hadn't noticed that while reading the book, but it seems so obvious now. Thanks for the insight.


Posted Nov. 23, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
marganna

Join Date: 10/14/11

Posts: 111

Expert

RE: What role do you think stories play for Cora and other travelers using the underground railroad?

Stories kept Cora alive & able to believe there was a better world waiting for her. It is through her stories we are transported through this era of slavery with its unbelievable cruelty & inhumane treatment. The stories bonded the decent people to love & hope; the stories gave us insight to the backstory of the not so compassionate people; the stories let us see the world as the evil people moved through their lives also. This is a storytellers book.


Posted Feb. 08, 2017 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
juliaa

Join Date: 12/03/11

Posts: 160

Expert

RE: What role do you think stories play for Cora and other travelers using the underground railroad?

JL Pen says it better than I could have. I do agree that the stories help keep memories alive, preserving the history and motivating the travelers to keep going with the hope of a better life to come.


Reply

Please login to post a response.