Essay on The Underground Railroad Book

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1451 Words
Date:  2021-06-25


Writing from a childhood vision, in his The Underground Railroad book, Colson Whitehead gives a concise explanation of what he thought an underground railroad was as a child. Precisely, in his own childhood understanding, Whitehead imagined that the Underground Railroad was a subway that was beneath the earth and one which was used by the slaves to ride to freedom. However, upon growing up, he went back to his initial childhood vision and authored his book The Underground Railroad, which touches on the historical slave stories and described the railroad as a secret network of passageways and safe houses that were essentially used by slaves in the South to reach the free North. This being said, this essay seeks to discuss the paradigms of freedom with reference to the practices, conventions as well as the institutions through which freedom is fought for, given from Whiteman’s perspective.

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The Underground Railroad: From Slavery to Freedom

Firstly, as portrayed in his book, Whitehead described the freedom that was achieved by the slaves as one that is beyond the predetermined bounds. In this regard, Whitehead seeks to generalize as well as enhance the keynotes of the modern discourse of freedom. Throughout the book, the main protagonist of the story, Cora, exemplifies a myriad of ways through which the blacks, against all the odds, fought for their freedom which had too often been stolen by the whites. Besides, Whitehead points out that people often perceive the idea of liberty wrongly. For this reason, he attempts at getting things right not by telling his readers what they already know about freedom but through vindicating the powers of fiction as an interpretation of the world and how it perceives the paradigms of freedom.

Cora Character in the Underground Railroad

Additionally, through his articulation of the need to flee oneself, this particular book is deemed as a pre-civil war story that features the young womans, Cora, extremely burning desire to escape slavery and attain her own liberty. Based on Whitehead's account of the story, Cora’s journey from the plantation into the life she always dreamt of through the Underground Railroad system exemplifies levels of freedom, from state to state. Precisely, her journey is haunted by her mother who had managed to escape from the plantation years ago and had left Cora, all by herself in the cruel world. Based on this context, Whitehead construes freedom from a paradigm which defines it as an agonistic and a limited calling for an ongoing struggle against all the constraints. Therefore, putting Cora’s situation into consideration, there is an understanding that the idea of freeing oneself from slavery is coupled with a great appreciation of both contingency and creativity in such a case where the enslaved individuals can bring new possibilities into existence, going beyond any predefined alternatives.

The Underground Railroad: Journey to Freedom

In the same vein, the book, The Underground Railroad revolves around the freedom paradigm which states that an individual is only able to attain a maximum amount of happiness when they have a minimum amount of government. This model is substantiated in the scene where the protagonist Cora is ready to endure both trauma and pain, through her escape, for her to only make her way to what she perceived as freedom. Besides, while still at the plantation, Cora is haunted by one particular slave catcher who prides himself on his record. Through this incidence, Whitehead points out that she can learn a harsh lesson that there exists more than one type of slavery and also the fact that the bonds of oppression can take many different forms. Thus, based on the perceived freedom paradigm, this particular section in the book is considered very wealthy in history but with the individual perspectives being sewn tightly in. Also, man's abject cruelty takes center stage in the threads which are concisely drawn from Cora’s bitter experiences to the modern day injustices and being deprived of freedom by the world. This, in essence, presents liberty in a way that the reader is easily able to connect the dots for them to understand the different ramifications of slavery.

Additionally, it is evident that Whitehead draws his idea of freedom from the happiness paradigm. Through Cora’s account of what life was really like on the plantation, where her mother had left her in the hands of the cruel world, Cora’s experiences substantiate the fact that, once one can change their own concept about the primary things that generate happiness, then the freedom paradigm follows quickly. For instance, through her state to state escape, Cora realizes in one of the towns that an apparent well-meaning medical center is in the real sense, an experiment in genocide. This being the case, Cora can discover that North Carolina, does not put up a false front of its real intent and it is still in the same town, that Whitehead depicts a lot of black people strung up in trees, for a myriad of miles, as far as they could see. Based on this particular scene, he dubs this as a freedom trail and hence indicating an ironical and scorn perspective on real freedom.

Underground Railroad: Theme of Justice

From the contexts of the institutions through which freedom is fought for, Whitehead, in his book, The Underground Railroad, substantiates that no idea is more fundamental to the American sense of oneself as an individual, or even as a nation than freedom. However, based on Coras flaming desire of attaining both liberty and justice, it is evident that the frame of both justice and freedom are a demonstration that the pre-existing institutional structure of a group that is considered challenging may emerge as a primary collective action frame of any kind of social movement. In the book, the Museum of Natural Wonders, where Cora as an escaped slave ends up working is described to her as a focus on American history. Therefore, drawn from this context, Cora, now almost a free slave, is a living exhibit who stands in the display case all day in the company of two other slaves. Therefore, Whitehead remarkably finds an elastic voice which accommodates a form of brute realism which actually enables him to convey the horrors of slavery from a historical perspective, as well as the joys that come along with knowing and attaining liberty.

Metaphor of the Underground Railroad

Whiteman, through his novel, illuminates the practice through which freedom is fought for through Coras underground escape in a trip of a lifetime. Besides, the experiences that she encounters along the way are deemed as prominent factors in her struggle to carve out a life of liberty on her own terms. As an African American, Cora, despite her tender age, is depicted as an individual who can go against all the odds in the fight for her liberty. Therefore, Whitehead, in this particular book highlights numerous ways in which freedom was fought for in black history. Precisely, at a performance, Cora substantiates that freedom is a lot more concerned with matters relating to narrative authenticity and authority. This, in its deepest essence, is a depiction of what ideal freedom is, in the sense that, the Underground Railroad is not perceived as a secret network of safe houses and passageways that are used by the slaves in their pursuit of freedom. Rather, according to Whitehead, it is a metaphorical track in which one is able to use so as to flee the misery and the violence that is associated with slavery. Thus, from Whiteheads perspective, freedom means being able to free yourself from the sheer inhumanities, violence and the distress that is brought about by slavery.


In a nutshell, Whitehead's book The Underground Railroad primarily focuses on the typical roles which are played by the individual abolitionists right from the historical time to the present day. Therefore, in showcasing the interrelated roles that individuals have played both in history and in the modern day today to put an end to slavery, Whitehead highlights both the struggles and the negotiations of freedom. On the example of The Underground Railroad book characters, Cora, who despite being enslaved, and distressed, exemplifies the greatest freedom paradigm related to happiness. This paradigm is an indication that the ability of an individual to be happy regardless of having the strength to press on, regardless of whatever is happening in their lives, is a true indication of freedom. This being the case, Whitehead concludes by saying that being able to understand the true meaning of freedom is knowing that all men are created equally unless one decides you are not human.

Works Cited

Whitehead, Colson. Summary of the Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Instaread, 2016.

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