The Underground Railroad

by Colson Whitehead

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 211

The Underground Railroad is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by American writer Colson Whitehead. Published in 2016, it is a fictional account of two slaves from antebellum Georgia attempting to escape to freedom in the northern United States.

Cora, the story's protagonist, is a young slave who works on a plantation owned by the abusive Randall family. Though Cora has no desires to leave the Randall plantation, her violent treatment at the hands of the masters inspires her to flee, like her mother before her. She is joined in her escape by Caesar, a fellow slave who has arrived at the plantation from his native Virginia. The pair's flight across the United States is through a, literal, underground railroad, during which they are pursued by a notorious slave catcher named Ridgeway whose chase is so relentless that he becomes "not . . . the first white man to see the underground railroad, but the first enemy."

At each stop in her journey, Cora encounters the different conditions that slaves experience in other states. The perilous conditions result in the death of Caesar and the eventual capture of Cora by Ridgeway; she, nonetheless, manages to escape a second time.

The Underground Railroad concludes with Cora—free of Ridgeway—traveling West in a wagon train, presumably to freedom.

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