This is perhaps one of the most intense books that I have read in a very long time. As part of the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge, I had to read a book that had won an award in 2017. The book I chose was The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. I chose this book because it had won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017, but also because of its topic. Even though it is a work of fiction, Whitehead based the book on stories that were true. It is a balance of the worst of man as well as some of the best of man. It is very reflective of the things that I see happening today.
Whiteheads book is about the underground railroad and the journey of one slave in particular. This slave managed to escape her bondage and found freedom to be elusive. No matter how many times that she felt a period of freedom, she’s never free. This book provides a mirror to our society today. I read recently on Facebook a statement that no white man living today owned a slave and no black man living today is a slave. While this may technically be true, the spirit and intent of the book lives on. As I look around I see the same things happening that happened in the book although not at the same extreme. In many parts of our nation, we have not accepted people of a different race living in our communities. For example, in North Carolina in the days of slavery, they did everything they could to eradicate free blacks from communities. They took these actions because of how somebody was born.
As I read this book, it broke my heart on how mean and vile man can be to a fellow man. It amazes me at the lengths that man will go to exhibit his cruelty. Let me provide you an example from the book.
The new stocks Terrance ordered explain the delay in Big Anthony’s Justice. The woodworkers toiled all through the night to complete the restraints, furnishing them with ambitious if crude engravings. Minotaurs, busty mermaids, and other fantastic creatures frolicked in the wood. The stocks were installed on the front lawn in the lush grass. Two bosses secured Big Anthony and there he dangled the first day.
On the second day a band of visitors arrived in a carriage, august souls from Atlanta and Savannah. Swell ladies and gentlemen that Terrance had met on his travels, as well as the newspaperman from London came to report on the American scene. They ate at a table set up on the lawn, savoring Alice’s turtle soup and mutton and devising compliments for the cook, who never received them. Big Anthony was whipped for the duration of their meal, and they ate slowly. (Whitehead, 2016, p.46).
The book also highlighted what was good in man as some individuals at great peril to their own lives helped escaping slaves on the road to freedom. During this period of time, anyone who helped slaves escape would be hung at best.
Whitehead provided a glimpse of what the underground railroad look like and how it operated. He also discussed how the societies for different states operated. The citizens of Georgia acted and conducted their slave business different than that of South Carolina and certainly different from North Carolina.
Whitehead also talked about the different people and jobs that were needed to keep the institution of slavery going. These jobs included the captains of slave ships, slave catchers, plantation overseers, and the normal citizen who thought this was right. It’s that last part that disturbs me the most. There were so many people who thought this was right. They benefited from the practice and thus accepted it. That’s what I find disturbing about our country right now. While we don’t have slaves per se, we still find it easy to cast others aside or suppress them in one manner or another. It is the number of people who support this I find disappointing.
The Underground Railroad is 310 pages long. And though it was a book of fiction Whitehead kept me riveted to each page. I thought Whitehead did a great job narrating the story and adding twists and turns that kept me wanting to read more. It opened the door to a piece of history that I have not been as familiar with as I should. It has encouraged me to learn more. I would encourage everyone to pick up The Underground Railroad and figure out how to be a better human.
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