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The Underground Railroad
A magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's desperate bid for...
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Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?

Created: 10/27/16

Replies: 14

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

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 1318

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Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?

Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader: if things are going well, you get comfortable before a sudden tragedy. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?


Posted Oct. 30, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
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bestmartin

Join Date: 02/20/13

Posts: 71

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RE: Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?

It was often horrifying and nerve wracking and it definitely seated me the reality the slaves were living. That sense of things being unstable and momentarily explosive. Awful.


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

Join Date: 03/12/14

Posts: 14

RE: Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?

The fear keeps the reader on edge and continually uncomfortable. The subject matter should invoke these feelings . All of this, keeps the reader involved with story and more aware of the writing.


Posted Nov. 02, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

Posts: 130

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RE: Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?

I think the author was trying to help readers, and especially white readers, grasp what it was like and what it IS like to live in constant fear of losing your freedom, or your life, due to the color of your skin in America. I knew a lot about slavery as a student and a teacher of American history, and I read the news, where racial violence is still a daily threat, and try to imagine myself in that situation... but this book gave a much more vivid sense -- a visceral sense-- of what this constant fear might be like. I say "might" only because, hard as this was to read at times, as a white person, I could put the book down and go back to my privileged world of living without this constant fear. So I can't ever really know what it is like, but it's important to try, and he did an astonishing job of getting some of that across.


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

Join Date: 07/20/16

Posts: 13

RE: Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?

The constant fear and instability kept me involved and connected to Cora throughout the story.


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

Join Date: 09/15/16

Posts: 36

RE: Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?

I think by creating an emotional instablility the reader never got the sense of being too comfortable, much like it would be for Cora. She could never fully let her guard down. It also made for an interesting read. This sense of fear helped the reader understand what it would be like for Cora and the other slaves who thought they had freedom, but had to keep their guard up for fear of being caught and taken back into slavery.


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

Join Date: 03/01/12

Posts: 12

RE: Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?

I'll just be honest and say that I did not care for the book at all. I was looking forward to reading it and was very disappointed. In fact if I had not agreed to be in a discussion of this book, I would have stopped reading it. That being said, as I said in an earlier response to a question, the premise of a real train is misleading no matter how it is explained away. The writing did not leave me feeling off balance, it just made me feel the writer did not organize his material before writing. The "medical" experiments that were mentioned did not take place during that time period and North Carolina was a slave state, not an idyllic place to live for runaways.


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: Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?

virginiap, I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it. I appreciate your honesty. You are correct about the timing of the medical experiments. To be fair to the author, though, I respectfully disagree that Whitehead had a misleading "premise." From the moment we learn in the story itself that the Underground Railroad is a physical construction, that is the author's signal to readers, that he is not trying to write linear history in the form of fiction: he is warning us that the "stops" along the way may not reflect the actual conditions in each state circa 1850 (after the Fugitive Slave Act). But they do reflect different aspects of the black experience in America, at different eras and in many places, in order to make his larger point about racism in America today.

And in the story, North Carolina was never a destination, portrayed as an idyllic place for runaways -- it was a glitch in the system of the underground railroad that stranded Cora in Martin's attic.


Posted Nov. 07, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
N*Starr

Join Date: 03/13/14

Posts: 35

RE: Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?

I agree with the others who said the emotional instability, the fear, was the author's way of keeping the reader emotionally attached to Cora. We felt her sense of constant vigilance.

I think there is a second conversation brewing about the historical "accuracy" of the novel. This novel is not meant to be historically correct, it has a level of magical realism and unhinged time/space. This made the narrative familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.


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

Join Date: 04/20/11

Posts: 14

RE: Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?

I just have to share my reaction to the description of Cora's wait in the attic when she was breathing through a small hole in the attic on days when the heat was in the 90's+. I have a clear picture of her doing that in my mind and since I'm asthmatic the image is terrifying. I imagine that many of us today could never have survived an attic experience.


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

Join Date: 04/25/11

Posts: 25

RE: Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?

Even with background knowledge, I think the author uses this emotional instability to keep the reader engaged. Life is a roller coaster, yet this experience is so far outside of the reader's life that the author needs to use this emotional instability to connect the reader to the characters.


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: Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?

It creates a tension and the impetus to keep reading to find out what happens to her. This is an excellent way to keep readers going in spite of all the pain and abuse being described.


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: Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?

I think the instability helped us live in Cora's shoes. It worked very well to engage the reader in Cors's circumstances.


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: Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?

The emotional instability kept the story going...a ton of misery, a little hope, a bit of almost normal life, then fear & hopelessness followed by action to bring hope....this was a very difficult story for me to finish. I just knew Cora would find happiness somewhere along this journey - the author leaves us with a little hope...


Posted Jan. 23, 2017 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
elizabethk

Join Date: 06/11/11

Posts: 11

RE: Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader. What does this sense of fear do to you as you're reading?

The sense of fear created tension. Each time something awful occurred to a character, I cringed. Maybe I just kept hoping more would have overcomed the dire circumstances.


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