Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad Analysis

Ann Petry

Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Ann Petry’s Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad is a straightforward, dramatically compelling, well-researched biography on one of the leading figures in the so-called Underground Railroad that guided slaves from the South to freedom in the North and helped to accelerate the abolition of slavery in the United States. Harriet Tubman contains twenty-two chapters, which focus on particular periods in Tubman’s life. They tend to be self-contained, and the focus remains tightly on Tubman throughout the text. The only exception lies in the italicized paragraphs that end each chapter; in them, Petry describes concurrent events, relevant quotes, or individuals who will appear later in Tubman’s life. The italicized paragraphs shed further light on the slavery issue and provide fascinating perspective and context to Tubman’s story.

The narrative can be divided into five sections. The first is Tubman’s childhood as a slave, when she was nicknamed Minty or Minta, and her early tendencies toward resistance. The second section is her adolescence, when she dropped the diminutive nickname and was called Harriet, rebelled more openly, and eventually escaped through the precarious network of communication, transportation, and places of safety that constituted the Underground Railroad. The third period consists of the years during which she repeatedly returned to eastern Maryland to help others flee to freedom. During this...

(The entire section is 466 words.)


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

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Ervin, Hazel Arnett, and Hilary Holladay, eds. Ann Petry’s Short Fiction: Critical Essays. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004.

Gross, Theodore. “Ann Petry: The Novelist as Social Critic.” In Black Fiction: New Studies in the Afro-American Novel Since 1945, edited by A. Robert Lee. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1980.

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Petry, Ann. “A MELUS Interview: Ann Petry—The New England Connection.” Interview by Mark Wilson. MELUS 15 (Summer, 1988): 71-84.

Washington, Gladys. “A World Made Cunningly: A Closer Look at Ann Petry’s Short Fiction.” College Language Association Journal 30 (September, 1986): 14-29.