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The Underground Railroad
A magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's desperate bid for...
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How does the state-by-state structure impact your reading process? Does it remind you of any other works of literature?

Created: 10/27/16

Replies: 7

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

Join Date: 10/15/10

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How does the state-by-state structure impact your reading process? Does it remind you of any other works of literature?

How does the state-by-state structure impact your reading process? Does it remind you of any other works of literature?


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

Join Date: 04/21/11

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RE: How does the state-by-state structure impact your reading process? Does it remind you of any other works of literature?

I was interested to see which states were slave states and which were free states and the proximity of free states to slave states. I'd never thought of slave catchers reaching outside of slave states to round up escaped slaves. What a horrible way to live - even though they had escaped, they were still property. This did bring up the novel The Help to me and how the previous history of the south with slavery shaped whites and blacks.


Posted Nov. 01, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
joycew

Join Date: 06/13/11

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RE: How does the state-by-state structure impact your reading process? Does it remind you of any other works of literature?

It was a good way to portray the railroad concept. As Cora arrived in each state, she felt a little bit safer. In each case it was an illusion and she had to move on.


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

Join Date: 02/05/16

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RE: How does the state-by-state structure impact your reading process? Does it remind you of any other works of literature?

It gave Whitehead an opportunity to trace the historical narrative in a way that didn't feel forced, so I felt each state "visit" deepening his theme and generating more suspense as to whether Cora would make it.

The progress of a journey is an archetype in literature... I was reminded of Pilgrim's Progress, Gulliver's Travels, in that this journey was intended to show us different aspects of a problem, to make commentary upon it, but unlike those allegories, this one also had real characters I could identify with and care about. Cora was representative of her race, and of women, but also, she was a distinct individual.

For VickyS, and anyone else, unfamiliar with it, the Fugitive Slave Act passed by Congress in 1850 gave slave owners and their hired agents the right to pursue and capture escaped slaves, even in the free states of the North. (Bitterly resented in my state, Vermont.) And they often used that law as a cover for kidnapping and selling freed slaves or freeborn blacks. If you read or saw Twelve Years a Slave, Simon Northup actually was a freeborn black man in New York State, stolen by deception from Saratoga Springs, NY.


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

Join Date: 04/05/12

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RE: How does the state-by-state structure impact your reading process? Does it remind you of any other works of literature?

The state-by-state structure allows Whitehead to show Cora confronted with the different ways our country dealt with the problem of the growing African population. Georgia went for the direct approach: beat them down; repress all sense of self-identity--their language, their family ties, their hopes for any future; shackle and chain them until their spirit is dead. South Carolina opted for a more genteel and humane approach: give them a false sense of security and well-being so they think they've achieved a level of freedom and self-determination, but control them with selective breeding and economic chains. North Caroline chose a swift solution: eradicate the problem completely by abolishing blacks and bringing in white immigrant labor to take their place. Legalize genocide and include white abolitionists as collateral damage. Cora only passes through Tennessee in Ridgeway's custody, but on this leg of her journey is forced to listen to her captor expound on his philosophy of the American Imperative that exalted white America's rights over all lesser races, red and black which justified his life's work of restoring black property to white owners. Indiana is late to adopt a solution, but the success and growth of Valentine's farm and others like it called putting an end to this new threat. Whitehead is of course not suggesting that different attitudes towards slavery were peculiar to individual states, but that there are many forms of oppression and slavery. Cora is introduced to these on Randall’s plantation, but finds herself imprisoned in each state she travels to and learns that the danger lay in accepting any lesser evil. All forms of slavery are unacceptable and she has to be alert to the dangers inherent in a lapse of vigilance for the more subtle forms.
One of the ways this impacted my reading was to alert me to equally overt and subtle ways that racial injustice still exists in our country. Our recent presidential election has been a wake-up call, and my reading of The Underground Railroad will certainly influence my response to unjust application of our laws to minority races, the plight of immigrants, and all forms of religious, political or economic repression that I see in 2016 America. We have grown too complacent about what is happening around us, and I know I have been guilty of shaking my head and saying, "Tsk, tsk," while doing nothing to support or call for change.
I apologize for getting off track and making the analogy to the news instead of literature, but it is what speaks most loudly to me today.


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

Join Date: 02/05/16

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RE: How does the state-by-state structure impact your reading process? Does it remind you of any other works of literature?

I think it's important to note here that the state by state approaches to slavery in the novel do not represent actual distinctions among states in the 1850s -- this is part of the magical realism aspect, he was playing with geography and time, to build suspense and deepen understanding. (It makes for a better story if Cora upon escaping the plantation at first thinks she has found freedom, but then "wakes up" to realize it is an illusion, and moves on, into something even worse...) All of these different experiences of racism, so well described by Edie, were not specific to any one state, but rather, they are all forms of racism that have existed in the South, and some of them in the North too, at different time periods -- and all have their counterparts in our lives today.


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

Join Date: 01/31/13

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RE: How does the state-by-state structure impact your reading process? Does it remind you of any other works of literature?

It most closely follows Gullivers Travels and I thought the State divisions provided a place to "start a new chapter", having some hope as to what might await Cora in her new state.


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

Join Date: 10/14/11

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RE: How does the state-by-state structure impact your reading process? Does it remind you of any other works of literature?

This was an extremely difficult & painful book for me to read. As I read each section I felt worse & worse. Going from state to state did not impact my reading process - the cruelty to people did. As I read through the above comments, I can see how Mr. Whitehead was weaving the story through the states to convey the various applications of Slavery. Each state had its own form of treating people horribly.


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