The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead Summary Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Underground Railroad

Plot Summary Part 4

The end.





The general idea of this book--the story of an escaped slave, had interesting aspects. But the way it was written could have been much more compelling.

A lot of the story centered on peoples' feelings towards Mable. Her massa hated her for escaping, Ridgeway hated her for eluding capture, and Cora hated her for abandoning her. No one ever learned she had been eaten by a snake. Cora spent the book pining for Mabel. It would have been much more dramatic if instead of being snake food at some swamp, Mabel was waiting for Cora at the end of the tunnel at the end, saying, "Dear, you're home! I have breakfast ready for you!"

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The various stops along the underground railroad that Cora made were not dramatic. She worked on a farm. Or she was a maid. At her last stop, at the farm in Indiana, she listened to poetry readings! And live music! And browsed in a black library! This was supposed to be the ultimate achievement of her travels. It was actually quite boring.

Even the final, final ending was not interesting. Cora sees friendly white people going to California. She joins them. So what? It feels like the story is not complete.

None of these endings had real emotional impact. What would have had emotional impact would have been something involving character conflict or development such as:

1) Cora finally catching up to Mabel, and coping with the anger she felt towards Mabel for leaving her behind.

2) Cora killing Ridgeway or even Massa Terrance in hand to hand combat.

3) Showing Cora reaching California, getting married, having kids, and showing her happy in a normal life. That would have been a great ending.

Instead, it felt like Whitehead simply got bored writing after a certain point and stopped just as Cora got her ride to California.

The story could have been even more compelling if Cora personally felt chased and hunted. True, Ridgeway caught up to her twice, but her adventures in South and North Carolina would have been spicier if she were personally on the run, closely chased by Ridgeway and other bounty hunters. Imagine if Ridgeway tracked her to SC, found a clue to where she was working at the Museum, Cora got word, started to run away, and Ridgeway tracked her. Now that would be exciting! Instead the best part, the chase, was cut out, and all we got was, "Ridgeway caught her."

The part where Ridgeway suddenly becomes mentally retarded at the end and forgets that Cora is even there is totally unbelievable, and a very bad ending.

The idea of this giant, long underground tunnel that no one knows anything about is totally unbelievable. It must have been made with major effort and for everyone to be unaware of it is not to be believed. Why wouldn't the underground railroad have at least explored its length? Didn't they think it could be useful? It's all very unbelievable.

The characters could have been more fleshed out. Sam hates slavery, helps Cora, check. Fletcher hates slavery, helps Cora, check. Martin hates slavery, helps Cora, check. The only beginnings of nuance we see is in Martin's wife, Ethel, who clearly has mixed feelings about helping Cora. These other characters were simply two dimensional, as were the other freed slaves who Cora encountered.

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