The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead)

Set in the United States during the 19th century, a young slave named Cora escapes from a Georgia plantation and embarks on a perilous journey through the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses. She encounters different individuals and experiences while seeking freedom and evading pursuit.

Author: Colson Whitehead
Project: Identity Racial Identity
List: Recent Prize Winner
Year of publication: 2016
Pages: 306





Plot Complexity: moderate
Language Complexity: moderate
Ideas Complexity: high

The Underground Railroad the language complexity demonstrates a balance between simplicity and intricacy, utilizing a range of vocabulary and sentence structures. The ideas complexity is classified as high as the novel delves into intricate concepts and explores thought-provoking themes, inviting readers to engage in deeper reflection. The plot complexity falls under moderate, featuring multiple layers and interwoven story lines that require attention while maintaining a manageable level of complexity.



Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven – but the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.


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