In The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, he depicts the idea of slavery and racism through the creation of Cora’s journey to freedom. Whitehead expresses the importance of ones’ identity with the use of imagery in order to describe the impact an identity can have. One’s character and physical traits uniqueness can be a determining factor of how an individual is treated by the majority.
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Whitehead is able to utilize his skill of imagery to create scenes in the reader’s mind to describe the hardships a slave has to go through. To show the struggles of a slave, in this case the point of view of Cora, Whitehead takes the audience on an adventure using The Underground Railroad as a metaphor to make it seem as a literal form of transportation showing Cora’s gradual progress towards freedom. Each state represents a new chapter filled with oppressing obstacles that she has to overcome. Some of the many discriminating barriers Whitehead describes are the experiences of medical unfairness and genocide due to the uncontrollable identity Cora has as a black woman.
Although the Underground Railroad’s concept itself was real, the physical train was nonexistent. The idea behind secret codes, rendezvous, and private organizations was used in the process of helping the slaves, as a unique twist, Colson Whitehead decided to have a different take on the aid of the escapees and implement the additional representation of an operating train. Respectively, the horizontal journey Cora chose between train routes allowed her to get to her goal and pave her pathway to where Cora finally arrives, freedom. The Underground Railroad was successful and helped approximately 100,000 slaves escape, “The tunnel, the tracks, the desperate souls who found salvation in the coordination of its stations and timetables — this was a marvel to be proud of.” (Whitehead, 68). The slaves would not have been able to escape if it wasn’t for the help of the morally good people who stood up for what they believed in and participated in the operation of the Underground Railroad. People who aided the slaves were also heavily at risk with punishment identical to what slaves would have received if caught, which includes torture and death. This was because “The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 also outlawed the abetting of fugitive slaves.” (Eastern Illinois University). If a slave were able to escape to a different state, but was eventually caught, slave catchers would have the right to be able to bring them back to their master’s plantation, backtracking and halting a complete stop to their getaway. The uncertain destiny of the slaves taking each train route represented the risk the slaves took being dependant on a line that was unsure of their outcomes.
In South Carolina, Whitehead is able to express a homey feeling and sense of settling for Cora that she may have found her forever home.
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