The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I read this for my first ever book club at work. I was glad I finally had an extra reason to pick this up since I had been eyeing it for years but the book never made it to the top of my list. The book club discussion afterwards definitely added to my overall experience. I was able to point things out to other people and learned some things that I had missed – like the fact that the underground railroad didn’t actually physically exist. I knew this in the back of my mind from my years of American history classes but somehow never mentally processed the metaphor in the book.

1) “What did you get for that, for knowing the day you were born into the white man’s world? It didn’t seem like the thing to remember. More like to forget.”

Birthday celebrations have always struck me as opportunistic capitalism. A lot of older people don’t even know when they were born.

2) “Take it out on each other if you cannot take it out on the ones who deserve it.”

For me, the overwhelming theme of the book was how people at the bottom of the ladder would kick down the ones below them, instead of fighting against those above. Because of this, I surprisingly associate this story much with Parasite.

3) “‘If you want to see what this nation is all about, I always say, you have to ride the rails. Look outside as you speed through, and you’ll find the true face of America.'” – Lumbly

What rails? To be fair, I did look into taking a train vacation.

4) “If niggers were supposed to have their freedom, they wouldn’t be in chains. If the red man was supposed to keep hold of his land, it’d still be his. If the white man wasn’t destined to take this new world, he wouldn’t own it now.”

Never assume that things are how they are because they should be that way.

5) “Like a railroad, the museum permitted them to see the rest of the country beyond their small experience, from Florida to Maine to the western frontier.”

The older I get, the more I feel that museum-going is completely backwards. You should go to museums at home, not when you’re traveling.

6) “Yet when his classmates put their blades to a colored cadaver, they did more for the cause of colored advancement than the most high-minded abolitionist. In death the negro became a human being. Only then was he the white man’s equal.”

Everyone has to shit. Everyone will die. We are all humans.

7) “In North Carolina, the negro race did not exist except at the ends of ropes.”

According to the book, race laws were very different across states. I never learned about this in school – is it true?

8) “‘I don’t get where it says, He that stealeth a man and sells him, shall be put to death…. But then later it says, Slaves should be submissive to their masters in everything – and be well-pleasing.'” – Cora

The beauty of computer code is that it has one true interpretation.

9) “‘It means taking what is yours, your property, whatever you deem it to be. And everyone else taking their assigned places to allow you to take it. Whether it’s red men or Africans, giving up themselves, giving of themselves, so that we can have what’s rightfully ours. The French setting aside their territorial claims. The British and the Spanish slinking away.'” – Ridgeway

The innate belief to do whatever you want is the best and worst of America.

10) “The almanac had a strange, soapy smell and made a cracking noise like fire as she turned the pages. She’d never been the first person to open a book.”

Here I am, dealing with first world problems when I can’t find a free ebook online.

The Underground Railroad was an enjoyable, quick read. The author’s writing style is quite unique and memorable. In particular, he tends to build up to an event and then abruptly come to a conclusion in one sentence.

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