The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead Summary Study Guide

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Plot Summary Part 2

Her decision makes no sense.

Cora is given a new job, working as a slave exhibit at a slave museum. That's right, she has to dress up as a slave, a living exhibit, in a slave diorama and pretend to be a slave.  Cora has escaped slavery only to find herself in a job where she has to pretend to be a slave. This is the author's way of showing us that Cora is not yet really free.

Cora learns that white people have purposely infected black people with venereal disease as an experiment. This is the "enlightened" South Carolina she was brought to. She is warned not to spread her legs for any man at "Red's Cafe" where the diseased people are.

Then Cora's white "friends" start to encourage her to be sterilized. They push her repeatedly to have v_gina surgery which will prevent her from having children. These are the "enlightened" white people who freed her from slavery who are pushing this on her. Not so enlightened.

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And yet Cora still stays there. She probably would still be staying there if Boba Fett (the bounty hunter Ridgeway) hadn't arrived and set the house on fire.

Cora somehow escapes to North Carolina and meets an underground railroad representative named Martin Wells. Martin is not exactly happy to see her. North Carolina has gotten much stricter when it comes to runaway slaves and people who harbor them are executed. Martin had come to bring a message saying he was shutting down operations when Cora showed up. Obviously conflicted, he agreed to hide her in his attic where she stayed for months. She had a small hole which allowed her to see what was going on in the nearby park.

There were numerous rallies at the park to execute runaway slaves and to show plays featuring black people acting like retards, such as one play where a black person (played by a white person) took off his shoes and repeatedly counted his toes but kept getting confused. From these numerous rallies Cora realized that support for slavery wasn't just from a small segment, but was something widely supported by most of the community.

This is why Martin had to keep Cora hidden in the attic. There were frequent patrols from local members of the community who would feel free to enter white people's homes at any time and search for escaped slaves. White people caught harboring slaves were hung or burned to death.

Cora was stuck in the attic because this branch of the underground railroad had shut down. She gets very sick. Martin's wife Ethel didn't want her there at all, because the risk was too great, but took pity when Cora got sick and took her down from the attic and took care of her.

That was their undoing because Martin's maid snitched on them and the patrols came and found Cora. As she was dragged away she saw Martin and Ethel tied to a tree while people threw rocks at them. Cora was captured by Boba Fett (Ridgeway the bounty hunter).

Ridgeway didn't care about slavery per se; bounty hunting was just a job for him. In fact, he had only owned one slave in his life, Homer, who he immediately freed, but Homer would not leave his side because he liked being Ridgeway's slave, even chaining himself up every night. Ridgeway even taught him how to read.

On the other hand, Ridgeway had no qualms about returning slaves to their masters and certain death. He even executed a slave named Jasper for talking too much.

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