As part of my update on my Pulitzer Prize Challenge, I was hoping to provide a review of The Underground Railroad today but, unfortunately, life got in the way. *Hangs head in shame* I was super excited when the hubby moved home from Istanbul a few months ago, but how in the world am I supposed to keep up with my reading if I’m spending time with him and having a social life? My lovely TBR notebook is now full of scratches and scribblings. And yes, I’m totally blaming the hubby for all of that.
In all seriousness, I thought today was a good moment to discuss some of my observations on The Underground Railroad. First, let me confess that when Oprah announced the book as her next selection for her book club and mentioned that the novel takes literary license in describing the underground railroad as an actual railroad, I assumed the book would be a huge departure from history. I feel silly for those thoughts now. Colson Whitehead obviously carefully researched slavery, the underground railroad, and all the related issues.
One of the things that makes a book a great novel is the thoughts provoked by such a book. There are a lot of themes to discuss in relation to The Underground Railroad, but one theme which really strikes a cord with me is fear. Fear is used in several ways throughout the story. Fear is used to keep slaves from running for freedom. Fear is used to make whites afraid of African slaves. Fear is used by the fugitive slave catchers to ensure whites didn’t help runaways. Most of these fears are the result of a fear of the African slave in general.
One of the reasons the theme of fear resonates with me is that using fear to motivate citizens is still something that is happening today. Fear of foreigners stealing jobs is used to close immigration doors. Fear of terrorist attacks is used by governments to violate the privacy of its citizens and to suspend human rights. Sometimes this fear goes to such extents that persons of certain religious groups are wrongly persecuted and even tortured.
Fear is, without a doubt, a great motivator. If we take the lessons learned since the times of slavery depicted in The Underground Railroad, then we should know better than to let blind, baseless fear rule our lives. Unfortunately, that lesson does not appear to have been learned.