Caringbah Men’s Book Group
Meeting 2nd Wednesday morning 10.00am
Everyone is welcome to attend.
Each month a book is selected by the group to be read for the following meeting. It the responsibility of the group members to get a copy of the book, the library can help with this in the following ways:
The library staff will reserve a copy for you. Please note a $1.20 hold fee applies.
If no copies of the book are available from our service, the library can try to source copies from other library services. This service incurs a $4.60 fee.
Meeting Date/Time: Wednesday 8 August 10.00am
Discussing: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves, but Cora is an outcast even among her fellow Africans, and she is coming into womanhood; even greater pain awaits. Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, and they plot their escape. Matters do not go as planned - Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her - but they manage to find a station and head north. In Whitehead's ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is not a metaphor - a secret network of tracks and tunnels has been built beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, where both find work in a city that at first seems like a haven. But the city's placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens - and Ridgeway, the relentless slave-catcher sent to find her, arrives in town. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing journey, state-by-state, seeking true freedom. Like Gulliver, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey - Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in states in the pre-Civil War era. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage, and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
Book Discussion Questions
1. How does the depiction of slavery in The Underground Railroad compare to other depictions in literature and film?
2. The scenes on Randall’s plantation are horrific—how did the writing affect you as a reader?
3. In North Carolina, institutions like doctor’s offices and museums that were supposed to help "black uplift" were corrupt and unethical. How do Cora’s challenges in North Carolina mirror what America is still struggling with today?
4. Cora constructs elaborate daydreams about her life as a free woman and dedicates herself to reading and expanding her education. What role do you think stories play for Cora and other travelers using the underground railroad?
5. "The treasure, of course, was the underground railroad…. Some might call freedom the dearest currency of all." How does this quote shape the story for you?
6. How does Ethel’s backstory, her relationship with slavery, and Cora’s use of her home affect you?
7. What are your impressions of John Valentine’s vision for the farm?
8. When speaking of Valentine’s Farm, Cora explains "Even if the adults were free of the shackles that held them fast, bondage had stolen too much time. Only the children could take full advantage of their dreaming. If the white men let them." What makes this so impactful both in the novel and today?
9. What do you think about Terrance Randall’s fate?
10. How do you feel about Cora’s mother’s decision to run away? How does your opinion of Cora’s mother change once you’ve learned about her fate?
11. Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader: if things are going well, you get comfortable before a sudden tragedy. What does this sense of fear do to you as you’re reading?
12. Who do you connect with most in the novel and why?
13. How does the state-by-state structure impact your reading process? Does it remind you of any other works of literature?
14. The book emphasizes how slaves were treated as property and reduced to objects. Do you feel that you now have a better understanding of what slavery was like?
15. Why do you think the author chose to portray a literal railroad? How did this aspect of magical realism impact your concept of how the real underground railroad worked?
16. Does The Underground Railroad change the way you look at the history of America, especially in the time of slavery and abolitionism?
Book discussion guide sourced from LitLovers: