Family, Brutality, and Death along the Freedom Trail

a book review of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Photograph by Powell Burns - CC2 license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

BY DECLAN EMIRZIAN, MARTA FRAWLEY, ISABELLA GENTILE, SOPHIA GENTILE, DANIEL KNAUB, and JAMES MATTSON

The Underground Railroad, written by Colson Whitehead, is a powerful and moving novel that shows the twisted reality between slavery, freedom, and the place of African Americans throughout the America’s history. The  book explores ideas about  family, brutality, and death, through an historical perspective.

The story focuses on Cora, an outcast on the Randall plantation, who tries to escape to freedom along with a few of the other slaves. They travel on a journey north to escape their lives of slavery, facing many obstacles and challenges along the way. They lose some friends on their journey, and also face many consequences for running away. Some of them face violence, sexual abuse, destructive language, and more. Their journey North is incredibly challenging.

Colson Whitehead’s purpose for writing The Underground Railroad is  to show readers the struggles of enslaved people, and their fight for freedom, portraying discrimination and racism through the eyes of the characters. Cora endures a great deal; she is beaten, walks through the gruesome Freedom Trail, and is forced to hide in an attic for months on end. Cora’s long journey to freedom tells a larger story about slavery, and brings the purpose of the novel to light.

The book is so brutal and realistic in its descriptions that once the reader finishes the killer ending, it is hard to comprehend what had happened. The reader feels like they are right beside Cora, praying for her,  trying to help her get through to the underground railroad. At many times it is hard to remember that the book isn’t a true story. Colson Whitehead crafted a very thrilling story with enough action to keep a reader hooked, but it has so much detail in the pages, one almost feels Cora’s pain.

Although the topic of the novel  is very delicate, it is a compelling and important read in today’s social climate as valuable commentary on race in America. This novel should be required reading for everyone in hopes that it might enlighten people about the painful, real history of America – a history that reverberates throughout the country today. Race relations in America are no doubt tense, with African Americans being racially profiled, murdered by the police, and treated like second-class citizens. Whitehead’s novel illustrates a painful past that should never be forgotten lest we repeat the same mistakes in the future.