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The Underground Railroad
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Archives > [August] The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead - Part 2 (to answer halfway through the book - spoilers)

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message 1: by Bryony, Circumnavigation Mod (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryony (bryony46) | 1081 comments Mod
Welcome to part two of the discussion. These questions relate to the first half of the book, up to the end of the South Carolina chapter. Part one can be found here and part three will follow shortly.

1. The portrayal of the Underground Railroad as a real railway introduces an element of magical realism into a book that starts as a straightforward historical fiction story. Do you like this aspect of the plot and do you have any thoughts on why the author might have chosen to include this?

2. Cora understandably struggles with her feelings about her mother’s escape from Randall’s plantation. What do you think of Mabel’s decision to escape and leave Cora on the plantation? Do you think Cora will discover what happened to her mother later in the story?

3. The book describes horrific treatment of enslaved people on Randall’s plantation, and in the chapter in South Carolina it’s revealed that doctors are secretly experimenting on Black people. Do you think books like this are important to remind people of the legacy of slavery and the way Black people have been (and are) discriminated against?

4. What, for you, has been the most memorable event or character in the book so far?

5. Finally, please add your own question for the next person to answer.


message 2: by Samantha (last edited Aug 15, 2018 12:32PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha | 1095 comments 1. The portrayal of the Underground Railroad as a real railway introduces an element of magical realism into a book that starts as a straightforward historical fiction story. Do you like this aspect of the plot and do you have any thoughts on why the author might have chosen to include this?

I did like it the is aspect, it thought it was interesting to envision how it might look and how it could have come about.

Perhaps there is something about a real railroad that made the author feel a wider experience for escape.


2. Cora understandably struggles with her feelings about her mother’s escape from Randall’s plantation. What do you think of Mabel’s decision to escape and leave Cora on the plantation? Do you think Cora will discover what happened to her mother later in the story?

It is always hard to imagine a parent leaving their child behind in a bad situation so my mind tends to think up reasons why it might be better than to stay. I think there has to be times when a parent just can't take a situation and may be able to leave hoping the world is better for their child or maybe some who just can't go on.

I finished the book so will leave the second question alone.


3. The book describes horrific treatment of enslaved people on Randall’s plantation, and in the chapter in South Carolina it’s revealed that doctors are secretly experimenting on Black people. Do you think books like this are important to remind people of the legacy of slavery and the way Black people have been (and are) discriminated against?

I do think it is important to remember the sins of our past so that they do not become excuses in our present.

4. What, for you, has been the most memorable event or character in the book so far?

The most memorable for me would be the initial escape and entrance to the railroad.

5. Finally, please add your own question for the next person to answer.
Besides the literal railroad did you notice any other alternate history in this story?


Joan Barnett | 1665 comments 1. The portrayal of the Underground Railroad as a real railway introduces an element of magical realism into a book that starts as a straightforward historical fiction story. Do you like this aspect of the plot and do you have any thoughts on why the author might have chosen to include this? I would like it if the railroad was more in the story, I guess. I have to admit I'm not in love with this book. I listened to it on audio first which was probably the worst audio I ever listened to. Now I'm skimming through the book to get a more sense of it.

2. Cora understandably struggles with her feelings about her mother’s escape from Randall’s plantation. What do you think of Mabel’s decision to escape and leave Cora on the plantation? Do you think Cora will discover what happened to her mother later in the story? Usually in these situations there is more going on than the child knows about so I'm sure there is a story behind her leaving Cora. I listened to the audio as I said and I can't even tell you if I remember what happened with her mom.

3. The book describes horrific treatment of enslaved people on Randall’s plantation, and in the chapter in South Carolina it’s revealed that doctors are secretly experimenting on Black people. Do you think books like this are important to remind people of the legacy of slavery and the way Black people have been (and are) discriminated against? I absolutely think these are important books. The things we have done to other races in the past are just horrible. I've read a lot about actual sterilization that happened in the past and it is absolutely horrific.

4. What, for you, has been the most memorable event or character in the book so far? Probably the experiments that they were doing in South Carolina.

5. Finally, please add your own question for the next person to answer. Answering the question above - I guess I'm zoning out too much on this book to notice. I know that sounds horrible. There are a few parts I'm interested in but not much.

Does anyone else agree that they would like to see more of the railroad in the book?


message 4: by Laura, Celestial Sphere Mod (last edited Aug 19, 2018 02:29PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Laura | 3783 comments Mod
1. The portrayal of the Underground Railroad as a real railway introduces an element of magical realism into a book that starts as a straightforward historical fiction story. Do you like this aspect of the plot and do you have any thoughts on why the author might have chosen to include this?

I like that the author did it as an actual railroad. I remember when I first started learning about the history in elementary school I went a really long time believing it was an actual railroad. I think it lends to a narrative structure and sort of humanizes the history in a way. It make the railroad more of a character rather than a more abstract system.

2. Cora understandably struggles with her feelings about her mother’s escape from Randall’s plantation. What do you think of Mabel’s decision to escape and leave Cora on the plantation? Do you think Cora will discover what happened to her mother later in the story?

I think one of the themes in the book so far has been the shear brutality of slavery and how this has impacted mothers. It seems as if many characters, including the author, are desensitized to the idea of losing children. The author often lists how many children a single slave lost. So it seems as if her mother could have dissociated herself from her children to the point of leaving them. But that may also be a shortcoming of the book, that I don't think it has really showed the humanity and depths of the characters well, or the characters' relationships to one another.

3. The book describes horrific treatment of enslaved people on Randall’s plantation, and in the chapter in South Carolina it’s revealed that doctors are secretly experimenting on Black people. Do you think books like this are important to remind people of the legacy of slavery and the way Black people have been (and are) discriminated against?

I don't the book really does anything to bring attention to current discrimination. As far as the historical treatment, I think it's very important. But unfortunately I would say that the people who are going to be moved by the book (or even read it in the first place) or probably those who are already moved by racial injustices.

4. What, for you, has been the most memorable event or character in the book so far?

I would agree with Samantha. It still makes me sad to think of Lovey and her likely fate.

5. Finally, please add your own question for the next person to answer.

I would agree. I think the book is showing more about the destinations rather than the processes of getting there. I think it would be interesting to see more of the actual travel.

What are your predictions for the main characters? (i.e. will Caesar make it to Cora in order to go onto the next destination, where will Cora end up)


Michelle (mich2689) | 479 comments 1. The portrayal of the Underground Railroad as a real railway introduces an element of magical realism into a book that starts as a straightforward historical fiction story. Do you like this aspect of the plot and do you have any thoughts on why the author might have chosen to include this?
Yes, I do enjoy how the book make the Underground Railroad a real thing. It made it much more interesting that way. I wouldn't say it feels very magical realism-ish though.

2. Cora understandably struggles with her feelings about her mother’s escape from Randall’s plantation. What do you think of Mabel’s decision to escape and leave Cora on the plantation? Do you think Cora will discover what happened to her mother later in the story?
I think it's too early to judge Mabel for her decision. However, I think Cora has every right to be mad at her mom. I think the odds are very small for Cora to discover what happened to her mom, especially since her mom is most likely keeping her real identity hidden. However, this is a book of fiction, so anything is possible.

3. The book describes horrific treatment of enslaved people on Randall’s plantation, and in the chapter in South Carolina it’s revealed that doctors are secretly experimenting on Black people. Do you think books like this are important to remind people of the legacy of slavery and the way Black people have been (and are) discriminated against?
I read about the Syphilis experiments when I was in school and I was horrified back then. It's still horrifying to hear about it. I do think it is important to continue to remind people of this history so that we do not repeat the same mistake.

4. What, for you, has been the most memorable event or character in the book so far?
I don't know if anything in particular has been the most memorable for me. As important as the theme of this book is, I'm having trouble connecting with it and the characters, probably because of the writing style. I guess I could say the railroad has been the most memorable because I too would like to read more about it.

5. Finally, please add your own question for the next person to answer.

What are your predictions for the main characters? (i.e. will Caesar make it to Cora in order to go onto the next destination, where will Cora end up)

I do think Caesar and Cora will meet again somewhere and that Cora will finally be able to get to a destination in the North. She might also meet or hear about her mother's story there.

Why do you think Mabel left without Cora?


Ana AZ (anabana_a) | 514 comments 1. I'm just okay with it. I'm not from the US so I'm not very familiar with its history, so I haven't heard the term "Underground Railroad" before which referred to the bunch of people helping blacks escape the South. So when I heard about this book, both the metaphorical railroad and literal railroad were new to me.

It doesn't feel like magical realism to me since it seems like technically it is possible for an underground railroad to exist. It's not like other magical realisms I've read where something absolutely impossible happens, like someone's nose runs away from them.

The author probably just thought "What if..."


2. It must be hard, but it also happens in real life, mothers abandoning their children. Most likely Mabel didn't want both of them to get killed/punished in case she was caught. Maybe Mabel escaped without too much hope that she'll succeed. If she had higher hopes, she would have taken Cora.

I'm just guessing but I don't think Cora will know.


3. Yes, I think it is important not to forget history. Nowadays so many kids say the N-word because it's what they hear in most songs, but they have no idea what's behind the history of that word and how it can be so offensive.


4. Ridgeway is really memorable. He's not likeable--he's awful! But he's interesting.

5. "Why do you think Mabel left without Cora?" -- My answer to #2 answers this too.

Do you like how the timeline skips around in this novel? Why or why not?


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